Monday, April 09, 2007
The president of Missouri State University has threatened to shut down its school of social work after receiving a searing external review that describes the school as, among other things, hostile to "faith-based beliefs." After reading the report, the president, Michael T. Nietzel, gave the school a year and a half to clean up its act.
"I was embarrassed by the things that were said in this report, but it was not a difficult decision to make it public," Mr. Nietzel said on Friday. "The only way, ultimately, that students and the public will have confidence in you as an institution is if you're public about your problems."
Mr. Nietzel requested the report after the university settled a lawsuit filed by a former undergraduate in the school, Emily Brooker. Ms. Brooker said in her complaint that faculty members in the school had retaliated against her after she refused to complete an assignment in which she was to write a letter to her representative in Congress supporting the right of gay couples to adopt children. Ms. Brooker cited her religious beliefs in her refusal.
Sure enough, the president posted the report. The report includes this assessment of the academic learning environment:
Does the academic environment of the School of Social Work promote learning and stimulate an honest and open dialogue in which intellectual differences are shared and respected among students, faculty and staff?
Many students and faculty stated a fear of voicing differing opinions from the instructor or colleague. This was particularly true regarding spiritual and religious matters however, students voiced fears about questioning faculty regarding assignments or expectations. In fact "bullying" was used by both students and faculty to characterize specific faculty. It appears that faculty have no history of intellectual discussion/debate. Rather, differing opinions are taken personally and often result in inappropriate discourse.
Do the faculty and staff of the School of Social Work model and communicate the CSWE Code of Ethics for students in the program?
There is an atmosphere where the Code of Ethics is used in order to coerce students into certain belief systems regarding social work practice and the social work profession. This represents a distorted use of the Social Work Code of Ethics in that the Code of Ethics articulates that social workers should respect the values and beliefs of others.
A similar story was told here at SCSU fifteen years ago. That program continues; the reviewers at Missouri State virtually plead with its administration to either close the program or find a way to move the offending faculty from the university. Both of those are expensive options; the publication of this report is indicative that the university is willing to pay that price if public demand grows enough to support the payment.
Labels: higher education