Social workers must be liberal

A master’s student in social work at Rhode Island College failed a course because he refused to lobby the legislature for liberal causes he didn’t support, reports FIRE. Bill Felkner took Professor James Ryczek’s fall 2004 “Policy and Organizing” class, which required students to lobby for one of a list of causes, none of which Felkner supported.

Felkner about the showing of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, asking if a movie critiquing Moore would be shown at the school. Professor Ryczek responded: “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.” The National Association of Social Workers has a PAC “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 . . .

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.

Conform or get out.

Later, “Ryczek assigned students to form groups to lobby the Rhode Island legislature for social welfare programs from an approved list.”  Felkner was denied his request to lobby against one of the programs, so he joined a group backing a program he opposes, but wrote a dissenting paper.  

Ryczek failed this paper, writing, “Regardless of the content, application of theory, and critical analysis, you did not write from the perspective you were required to use in this academic exercise.  Therefore, the paper is must [sic] receive a failing grade.”

Felkner is now retaking the course from a different professor, who’s said he can choose his own issue but will receive a lower grade if his group doesn’t include “Policy and Organizing” classmates, all of whom are lobbying for a liberal program.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    I will be the first one to admit a bias toward a certain point of view. But I don’t characterize my “bias” in this instance as a pejorative thing. In fact, I think the biases and predilections I hold toward how I see the world and how it should be are why I am a social worker. In the words of a colleague, I revel in my biases. 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. I don’t want you to think that I am suggesting that you are such a person…but, then again, you may be…only you can make that determination. It is not uncommon that the educational process here lends itself to such reflections on the part of many students.

    This is not education. This is indoctrination. This so-called professor doesn’t even pretend to mask his biases. He revels in them! He also doesn’t pretend that he is open to other points of view. There is only one point of view allowed in his class. Moreover, he openly threatens a student who dares to hold a point of view different than his.

    Explain to me again why academic freedom is so important. It is because we want to allow professors to express their ideas without fear of reprisal? What about the students? Hey, let’s not get too carried away with this academic freedom thing. It is only for the professors.

  2. Why should something like this not be construed as an in-kind contribution to a political party?

  3. I suspect the professor is correct about the prospects being dismal for a conservative social worker. Not that this is a valid reason for flunking someone just because he is a conservative.

    I’d suggest bringing it to the attention of all legislators that voting for any bill that involves more employment or power for social workers empowers a self-selected group with a particular political agenda.

    And forcing students to lobby for a political cause certainly does sound like an in-kind political contribution….

  4. As for academic freedom, it’s about the faculty’s freedom to express themselves. It’s not about grading. And it’s certainly not about using students as slaves to push the professor’s political viewpoint.

  5. My sister is a conservative Social Worker (crises therapy, suicides and such) who went to a private school with a well-known and well-respected MSW program. She helps many people and they don’t ask her her political views. It is outrageous to suggest that only liberals can be comfortable working in “the Social Worker’s World.”

  6. instructivist says:

    “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…”

    What herd mentality! It recalls (I believe Harold Rosenberg’s) famous quip about a herd of independent minds. But of course these people don’t have an independent mind at all. They are wedded to an ideology.

    This phenomenon is reminiscent of the situation in ed schools where there are signs that certain political views will become a requirement for teacher certification. I discussed this on my site.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Kinda like California’s secular Saint, Caesar Chavez. He was revered as the Mother Theresa of the farm worker, yet he routinely threatened workers with firing if they did not, on their own time, participate in political rallies.

  8. Roger Sweeny says:

    Rhode Island College … Professor Ryczek responded: “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.” The National Association of Social Workers has a PAC “working actively to defeat Bush.”

    If that is true, then the Department of Social Work probably does not qualify for tax-exempt status. In fact, the entire school’s may be in jeopardy.

    The school probably has no problems if it comes out with some statement that, of course, no student has to conform to a particular political view, and of course, the school is not a political actor. And then enforces it on Professor Ryczek.

    But absent that, here is a great opportunity for political theater. Some group could file a complaint with the IRS, complete with press release and press conference (and maybe even puppets).

  9. Roger–I’m not a lawyer, but I’d like to see that lawsuit. I’m fed up with the narrow-mindedness of our public universities and would like to do something about it. I’ll admit that I am not a leftist, but my irritation stems from the lack of education on our campuses. I would have the same problem (but with perhaps less irritation) if a campus was unabashedly skewed to the right. The problem with one-sided campuses is that dissent is discouraged and debate is abandoned. This, obviously, reduces the value of a college education.

    At any rate, sign me up. I’m in Colorado dealing with our own campus problem (Ward Churchill, to be specific), but would happily contribute to the cause.

    For those liberals that happen to be reading, please don’t write-off my motivation. The discouraging of debate doesn’t help anyone. I’m saddened to have lost the era of debate, where two sides could be argued with facts and logic, and without personal attacks.

    This is a cause for us all. I don’t want to get rid of “liberals” on campus, just narrow-minded dictatorial professors. Let’s get both sides up there so we can debate and work out solutions that benefit all of us.

  10. Quit moaning and bitching and deconstruct your whiteness. Everything will seem better.

  11. Bada Bing; Would you explain what you mean by “whiteness”, please?

  12. Steve, certain far-left types are fond of telling people to deconstruct their whiteness. In short, it means do a whole lot of navel-gazing and mental self-abuse to figure out why you as a white person have too much and are morally obligated to have it taken from you and given to minorities.

    From the look of it, BadaBing was using the phrase to be a smart-a**. This, of course, is the only way the phrase should be used, since it is far too rediculous to be taken even the slightest bit seriously and will cause side-splitting laughter in anyone with his head still on straight.

  13. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Actually, the narrow minded liberal does sort of have a point. A conservative social worker makes about as much sense as a Christian Scientist physician or a pacifist soldier. A less extreme case: is someone ideologically opposed to alcohol qualified to be a physician? (My physician prescribes a glass of wine a day for me.) Sometimes, ideology is part of the profession.

    “My sister is a conservative Social Worker (crises therapy, suicides and such)” If Meezer’s sister does any good, presumably she doesn’t take the conservative stance at work: telling people in crises to stop whining and stop expecting someone else to take care of their problems.

    This case illustrates another point: liberals so often look silly because they are far behind conservatives in their mastery of casual lies and hypocrisy.

    President Bush recently said he welcomes “vigorous discussion.” No doubt a certain ex-General was glad to hear that. (I don’t remember his name. The one who warned Bush about the number of troops that would be required to keep order in Iraq and was effectively fired.)

    No head of a policemen’s union says in public that people who aren’t willing to cover up torture or sexual assault should not be policemen. The cops just hound everyone who won’t keep the code off the force, without saying a word in public or leaving a paper trail.

    If James Ryczek and his fellow faculty members want to avoid commentary like the proceeding posts, they will have to act like a conservative organization would in a similar situation: Give Felkner a few Fs without telling him why. If he protests, say it’s just some loser who flunked out and is whining about it.

  14. Richard, I disagree with your contention that a “conservative social worker…doesn’t make sense”. From my point of view, the difference between conservative and liberal is in the means of action. Liberals use government, conservatives use individuals. I volunteer at a local shelter, give to charity, make my kids a priority, help the neighbor’s kid who happens to be a dropout. I believe in good causes, but feel the best way to make change is to do it myself. Since I don’t believe in coercion through big government, however, liberals view me as “uncaring”.

    Regarding Badabing’s view of me having “so much” because I am white, I am afraid I must not be the norm. As the old saying goes, “I’m so poor I can’t afford to pay attention”. It’s nobody’s fault but my own, and I wish the government would stop “helping” me. The more it tries to help, the harder it seems for me to get out of my rut!

    At any rate, thank you Richard and Adrian for the clarification.

    Bada Bing–relax. Those of us who don’t think like aren’t evil.

  15. “I suspect the professor is correct about the prospects being dismal for a conservative social worker.”

    I know several conservatives with MSW’s. They were some of my colleagues when I worked FOR a (GOP-dominated) state legislature, which might perhaps be a good way for Felkner to have the last laugh at Ryczek’s expense.

  16. Before we label one another as liberals or conservatives, we must understand that we come from a common background. And that we all share the same values as people. I agree with Steve, in that we all share a common goal. We only disagree on the path to achieveing that goal.

    Keeping an open forum about a problem will ultimately lead us to a better solution. There have been many great scientists who have been great Christians as well. You need a pacifist solider to know when to stop fighting. We are complicated creatures, we cannot be defined with such a limited set of labels.

    In this case, this professor betrayed his profession. Teachers should NOT teach their students what to think, but how to think.

    I can’t see how limiting students to liberal causes will develop them into better Social Workers, or in this case, better orgainizers and developers of policy. All this does is encourage them to think in one way. This type of practice is dangerous, because we live in a society that lacks original thought. By supporting this type of practice in schooling we’re blowing out the sparks of innovation that need so sorely need.

  17. Bill Felkner says:

    I found this site and wanted to make some comments. First I was not failed from the class, just the last 2 assignments that dealt with the policy issues. It is a year long class broken into 2 semesters. The forced lobbying is still in dispute.

    I have been documenting the comments, meetings and emails since October. This along with the fact I just got my BA from this school summa cum laude I dont think they can simply “flunk me out” without good cause. The pattern has been documented.

    And someone made a comment about keeping social workers out of policy positions. Here several administrative positions MUST be filled by social work graduates according to RI law. This comes from a 85% democrat legislature and follows the explicit goals of the National Association of Social Workers (the ones with the PAC).

    Thanks for keeping attention to the matter. I will have news in the next week or two as I am being taken again to the Academic Affars Committee for my “behavior”.

    All updates on

    Bill Felkner