In response to my post about right and wrong ways to fight left-wing political correctness on college campuses, in which I took David Horowitz to task for peddling what turned out to be an unsubstantiated anecdote about a Fall 2004 classroom airing of Fahrenheit 9/11 at Penn State, Robert Shibley of FIRE writes:
I don’t know about Penn State, but we did learn that at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work, they were definitely showing Fahrenheit 9/11 in class in fall 2004. Here’s an e-mail from a professor acknowledging that from our case: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/5343.html (the full case is at http://www.thefire.org/index.php/case/669.html and is, frankly, a real scandal). Actually, the professor admits that several professors were showing the movie to their graduate and undergraduate social work classes. He also goes on to say that social work is basically only open to liberals, which is the crux of what our case there is about (FIRE believes that there should not be a political litmus test for the study of any subject at a public university).
Read the linked pages. This is indeed an outrageous (and fully documented) story, and the Fahrenheit 9/11 showing is only the tip of the iceberg.
On October 14, 2004, student Bill Felkner emailed professor James Ryczek to note that Fahreneit 9/11 had been shown in several classes at the school and asking if there was any possibility of airing the anti-Michael Moore film, Fahrenhype 9/11, for balance.
Ryczek’s reply, dated October 15:
Actually no school money was used for the showing of the film, per se. Dan Weisman (BSW Program Faculty) bought the film on his own and offered to organize and show the film at the times he arranged, although he and some other BSW faculty are showing it in class. The announcements were made in MSW classes just to let students know that they can go if they wish.
I don’t believe there would be an objection to showing the other film if you or someone else were to organize it…the space here is definitely a community space to be used by members of the community (especially students).
But, there may be a broader issue here that I’d be happy to discuss more with you (based on your comment about having a problem with the school, if it did promote and sponsor the film).
As I have mentioned in class, and I assume you’ve heard in other classes, Social Work is a value-based profession that clearly articulates a socio-political ideology about how the world works and how the world should be. In fact NASW, the professional organization, puts out position papers on just about everything in the realm of public discourse and debate. We also have a PAC specifically organized to promote certain candidates with whom we share the same political agenda and outlook…and as you may have guessed, is working actively to defeat Bush. So, as a social worker, I don’t find it at all unusual that a film like 9/11 might officially be sponsored by the school, and that the alternate view film might not be sponsored. In short, by and large as a profession we do take sides…and indeed in this school, we have a mission devoted to the value of social and economic justice.
Now that being said, I don’t think anyone here would want to quash alternative views. Again, as I have said in class…I want us to have an open discussion and debate about issues. In fact, questioning is an extremely important social work skill, and I know that I am doing a great deal of questioning with students about how they have traditionally thought about certain issues ….and that is challenging for both me and the student.
Yet, if a student finds that they are consistently and regularly experiencing opposite views from what is being taught and espoused in the curriculum, or the professional “norms” that keep coming up in class and in field, then their fit with the profession will not get any more comfortable, and in fact will most likely become increasingly uncomfortable.
… So, I think anyone who consistently holds antithetical views to those that are espoused by the profession might ask themselves whether social work is the profession for them…or similarly, if one finds the views in the curriculum at RIC SSW antithetical to those they hold closely, then this particular school might not be a good fit for them.
Never mind that the issues addressed in Fahrenheit 9/11 have very little to do with any of the issues and values relevant to social work. Unless, of course, one believes that any attacks on Bush are relevant to the issues and values relevant to social work.
Later, the school told Felkner that he was required to publicly advocate for liberal policies if he wanted to pursue his degree.
Social work may be a more “values-specific” field than most, though I’m sure there are many social workers who would disagree with Ryczek’s blanket statement that politically liberal values are inherent to the profession. But in fact, similar claims about the inherent “fit” of politically liberal values to the field have been made about the academy in general (on the grounds that free inquiry, dissent, and a rejection of various orthodoxies are inherently “liberal” values).
The problem is there, and it needs to be fought with facts.
Professors holding left-of-center views — which is the principal crime imputed to them by those conservative UCLA alumni whose now-rescinded “cash for class notes” offer recently made such a stir — is not a problem. (Though I do think that a serious ideological imbalance in any field, particularly in the humanities, is a bad thing for the academy: diversity of ideas is its lifeblood.) Professors pushing their beliefs on students and punishing or marginalizing dissenters, on the other hand, is something that should not be tolerated. And there is far too much indoctrination and intellectual intolerance in the academy, particularly in certain fields (be it social work or women’s studies and ethnic studies) where many professors sincerely believe that a particular ideology is the foundation of the field itself.