George Orwell U

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports on a disturbing program of political indoctrination at the University of Delaware. To highlight a few parts of their report:

The University of Delaware subjects students in its residence halls to a shocking program of ideological reeducation that is referred to in the university’s own materials as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs. The Orwellian program requires the approximately 7,000 students in Delaware’s residence halls to adopt highly specific university-approved views on issues ranging from politics to race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling for the total dismantling of the program, which is a flagrant violation of students’ rights to freedom of conscience and freedom from compelled speech.

“The University of Delaware’s residence life education program is a grave intrusion into students’ private beliefs,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “The university has decided that it is not enough to expose its students to the values it considers important; instead, it must coerce its students into accepting those values as their own. At a public university like Delaware, this is both unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

Later in the report:

According to the program’s materials, the goal of the residence life education program is for students in the university’s residence halls to achieve certain “competencies” that the university has decreed its students must develop in order to achieve the overall educational goal of “citizenship.” These competencies include: “Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society,” “Students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression,” and “Students will be able to utilize their knowledge of sustainability to change their daily habits and consumer mentality.”At various points in the program, students are also pressured or even required to take actions that outwardly indicate their agreement with the university’s ideology, regardless of their personal beliefs. Such actions include displaying specific door decorations, committing to reduce their ecological footprint by at least 20%, taking action by advocating for an “oppressed” social group, and taking action by advocating for a “sustainable world.”

In the Office of Residence Life’s internal materials, these programs are described using the harrowing language of ideological reeducation. In documents relating to the assessment of student learning, for example, the residence hall lesson plans are referred to as “treatments.”

I’ve often seen conservative organizations twist facts to promote their false meme that liberals oppose free speech and initially wondered if this was yet another example. From what I’ve been able to find out about this group, it does appear legitimate. For example, Wikipedia reports that the organization’s president is a liberal, that some of the conservatives involved have a solid record on civil liberties issues, and that they have defended students and professors with left wing views. While the organization does appear to have conservative ties, I have posted on cases in the past where some principled conservatives have defended civil liberties, including criticism of the abuses under the Bush administration.

Some of the conservative blogs, such as Sister Toldjah and Right Voices, are using this as an example to further their claims of liberals opposing free speech, even though this example was condemned by an organization with a liberal president. In reality, the current left/right spectrum is highly flawed. There are those of us who concentrate on civil liberties on both the left and right, and there are those who are on the wrong side of civil liberties issues on both sides of the spectrum.

The real test of conviction on civil liberties issues is to defend the principle regardless of the views involved. It is one thing for conservative blogs to protest such a program when it involves what they would perceive as liberal views on racism. I wonder if there would be the same reaction if instead there were mandatory programs on the danger of “Islamofascism” or on religious values. Analogous situations of indoctrination which many conservatives support in the public schools include school-sponsored prayer and teaching creationism as science. Going beyond the schools, many conservatives support requirements for women to watch films prior to having an abortion intended to dissuade women from having the procedure.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Dadmanly says:

    Ron,

    You asked,

    “I wonder if there would be the same reaction if instead there were mandatory programs on the danger of “Islamofascism” or on religious values. Analogous situations of indoctrination which many conservatives support in the public schools include school-sponsored prayer and teaching creationism as science. Going beyond the schools, many conservatives support requirements for women to watch films prior to having an abortion intended to dissuade women from having the procedure.”

    1. Yes to your first question. No (non-extreme) conservative voice thinks teaching on the very real threat of radical Isalmic terrorism or religious values should be mandatory, although many of us might think such teaching helpful in broadening the perspectives of idealogues such as those at UD.

    2. You describe “school-sponsored prayer and teaching creationism as science” as analogous “indoctrination.” There are fringe conservatives (might they be better descriebd as reactionaries?) who consider state sponsored prayer an ideal — but most of us, including fundamentalists, want unfettered freedom of religious expression WITHOUT state interference, which is what the practical application of misguided “separation of church and state” most often translates into. Some conservatives may want creationism treated like science, but most just want less oppressive treatment of Darwinism versus personal religious belief without the “indoctrination” by organs of the state.

    3. As to your point about “many conservatives” wanting to require women to watch films of abortions prior to having them, that indeed would be oppressive. I am myself pro-life, and I can believe that some conservatives think this a useful and acceptable tactic. I don;t as a matter of law.

    On the other hand, I think it morally reprehensible that the “reproductive freedom” crowd fights to make sure that women DON’T understand, comprehend, or appreciate the reality of the “choice” they make, and the lifetime of choices they deny to their prospective offspring. The truth may make you free, but not necessarily free to chose, hence the need to keep women in willful ignorance.

  2. 2
    Joe says:

    FIRE handles campus free speech cases from all points on the political spectrum. For example, check out a recent case at Georgia’s Valdosta State University, where FIRE is acting on behalf of an environmentalist student was expelled for protesting the construction of parking garages on campus:

    http://thefire.org/index.php/article/8571.html

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