… in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the most charitable description of what’s been going on at the clubby University of Minnesota medical school would be “bizarre.”
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Concerning Disposition Assessment
at the University of Minnesota
College of Education and Human Development
Selections from the full letter:
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE; www.thefire.org) unites leaders in the fields of civil rights and civil liberties, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, academic freedom, due process, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of association on America's college campuses.
FIRE is deeply concerned about new policies at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities proposed by the College of Education and Human Development. According to documents published by the college (see http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cehd/teri), it intends to mandate certain beliefs and values-"dispositions"-for future teachers. The college also intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the "wrong" beliefs and values-those who either do not have sufficient "cultural competence" or those who the college judges will not be able to be converted to the "correct" beliefs and values even after remedial re-education. These intentions violate the freedom of conscience of the university's students. As a public university bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the university is both legally and morally obligated to uphold this fundamental right.
On the level of "Self," the task group seeks to require that:
Our future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression.
Future teachers will understand that they are privileged & marginalized depending on context ... It is about the development of cultural empathy, if you will. Teachers first have to discover their own privilege, oppression, or marginalization and also are able to describe their cultural identity.
Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege[.]
Future teachers will understand the importance of cultural identity and develop a positive sense of racial/cultural identity[.]
In addition, this area demands that "Future teachers create & fight for social justice."
In the final section, "What Makes the University of Minnesota's Programs Distinctive from Other Programs in the State?" the task force even presumes to demand commitments from the college's faculty, in violation of their academic freedom:Every faculty member at our university that trains our teachers must comprehend and commit to the centrality of race, class, culture, and gender issues in teaching and learning, and consequently, frame their teaching and course foci accordingly.
FIRE urges you to consider the Supreme Court's ruling in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), which invalidated mandated allegiances to political ideologies at public schools. Writing for the Court, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared:
Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.
FIRE understands that the college intends to consult with the university's general counsel regarding its "dispositions assessment" in the summer of 2010. Let us urge you today not to wait until the college wastes valuable resources in taking several more months to plan such an unconstitutional and morally unconscionable set of demands on future teachers.
Indeed, the university's general counsel should be asked to comment as soon as possible. If the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group achieves its stated goals, the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the "wrong" views and values, and withholding of degrees from those upon whom the university's political reeducation efforts proved ineffective. While the task group appears to have attempted to take matters of "social justice" to heart, it seems to have persuaded the College of Education and Human Development to adopt requirements that, by any non-totalitarian standard, are severely unjust and impermissibly intrude into matters of individual conscience. As these demands for "cultural competence" stand today, they are a severe affront to liberty and a disservice to the very ideal of a liberating education that appears to be behind the task group's ideas. It is a shame that the College of Education and Human Development has embraced such an illiberal view of education.
Note that there is unfortunately more distressing commentary in the letter - this is only an excerpt.
Please recognize your legal and moral obligation to respect the freedom of conscience of the future teachers of Minnesota. The College of Education and Human Development has a chance to demonstrate that it shares an understanding of the basic premises of a liberal education and truly embraces human diversity on its most profound and essential level. Great teachers come in all shapes and sizes, from all backgrounds and all beliefs. Let the college's policies reflect this reality.
FIRE requests a response by Thursday, December 17, 2009.
Director, Individual Rights Defense Program
Once again we find ourselves at the University of Minnesota in a situation that leaves us open to national ridicule if we continue in our pigheadedness.
That our president and provost - who is a lawyer - tolerate it is disgraceful. Leadership matters. Time for change in Morrill Hall?