Columbia University: Ideological Litmus Tests at Teachers College

Category: Freedom of Conscience
Schools: Columbia University

Columbia University’s Teachers College requires students to demonstrate a “commitment to social justice” and  employs “dispositions,” which it defines as “observable behaviors that fall within the law and involve the use of certain skills,” to evaluate students. These dispositions, “expected of Teachers College candidates and graduates” and “assessed at each transition point,” include “Respect for Diversity and Commitment to Social Justice.” FIRE criticized these and other requirements in several letters to Columbia University and Teachers College, arguing that evaluating students according to their commitment to an officially defined ideal is a violation of a student’s right to decide for himself or herself what is and is not socially just. Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman told FIRE that the policy would be reevaluated, but there has been no change in this policy.

  • Campus Alert: Think like us–or else

    June 4, 2007

    Columbia University’s Teachers College is one of America’s most prestigious education schools. For many students, it’s probably the best—but not if you don’t buy the school’s definition of “social justice.” Teachers College evaluates students in part on the basis of so-called “dispositions,” defined as “observable behaviors” that “involve the use of certain skills.” One “disposition” is the student’s “Respect for Diversity and Commitment to Social Justice.” This warps the discussion of whether a student might make a good teacher into whether that student has the “correct” personal, religious or political beliefs. Evaluating students’ aptitude for teaching based on their commitment […]

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  • Social justice and political orthodoxy

    March 30, 2007

    Columbia University has had more than its share of free-speech controversies over the last academic year, including a student melee that ended a speech by the founder of the Minuteman Project and a short-lived attempt to punish a sports club for using a rude word. One controversy, however, seems to have left the administration particularly puzzled: Why, they seem to be asking, would anyone object to Columbia Teachers  College’s requirement that students demonstrate their “commitment to social justice?” After all, doesn’t everyone agree that social justice is a good thing? Since at least 2003, Teachers College has maintained a policy […]

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  • Quick Hits: Columbia University ignores objections to thought reform amid free speech controversy

    November 7, 2006

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on Teachers College—Columbia University’s graduate school of education—to abandon its ideological litmus tests for students. These policies are manifestly inconsistent with Teachers College’s written promises of free speech and academic freedom as well as with Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s recent statements on the importance of free expression at Columbia University. Teachers College’s Conceptual Framework, which represents the “philosophy for teacher education at Teachers College,” requires students to possess a “commitment to social justice.” Moreover, students are expected to recognize that “social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination […]

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  • A Columbia expert on free speech is accused of speaking too softly

    October 22, 2006

    Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, is a natural in the classroom, guiding undergraduates through the intricacies of the First Amendment. Here he is, pacing, jacketless, playing the role of a politician who wants to ban pornography: Would it be constitutional, he asks his students? How would he justify the limits on free speech? He presses on, as a politician might, proclaiming, “I really think we should eliminate certain viewpoints from society.” Some students start to laugh. “Why don’t we do that?” he asks. There is probably no university chief in America more steeped in issues of free […]

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  • Letting the PC slip show

    October 13, 2006

    You’ve probably never heard of Teachers College, but it has profoundly affected your life and is now affecting your children’s lives. TC is the graduate school of education at Columbia University and laboratory of most of the “reforms” that have corroded K-12 education over the past 50 years. New math, whole language, open classrooms, outcome-based education — you name the fad and it probably originated in Morningside Heights in New York. Teachers College is the most influential graduate education program in the country, and like so many leading schools, it is probably irredeemably PC. Still, Columbia University professes to uphold […]

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  • University policy draws fire from free-speech advocates

    October 12, 2006

    Columbia University’s Teachers College is being criticized by free-speech advocates, who are charging that the school’s “Conceptual Framework,” the document that shapes curricula and guides instruction and student assessment, amounts to an ideological litmus test. The Conceptual Framework lists a number of “dispositions” essential for future teachers such as a “respect for diversity and commitment to social justice,” according to the school’s Web site. Students’ dispositions are evaluated by faculty members “at multiple decision points.” A spokesman for Teachers College, Joseph Levine, denied that students are graded on their beliefs. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an educational free […]

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  • Merit at Columbia

    October 12, 2006

    Staff Editorial What a juxtaposition — the same week that Columbia University is celebrating merit in the form of the Nobel prize in economics awarded to Professor Edmund “Ned” Phelps, Columbia’s Teachers College is coming under justified criticism for deriding merit, favoring instead a kind of left-wing indoctrination. If that sounds like an overstatement, we invite you to check out the “conceptual framework” for Teachers College that is available for download at the Teachers College Web site. It states, “Social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual […]

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  • Litmus lesson: Teachers College’s political tests

    October 12, 2006

    by Greg Lukianoff and Robert Shibley New York Post   Columbia President Lee Bollinger has been publicly praising the sacredness of free speech in the wake of the violent melee that last week forced the university to shut down a speech by Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist. Yet while Bollinger talks a good game, it doesn’t appear that his own university is listening to him. Columbia’s Teachers College – one of our nation’s most prestigious education schools – has policies that go beyond telling students what they can or can’t say; it tells them even what they are required to […]

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  • Silence From Teachers College

    April 16, 2008

    When Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman told FIRE last May that the school would be taking another look at the language used to describe its evaluative criteria, naturally we took her at her word. After all, we figured that Fuhrman likely became President of what is arguably our nation’s most prestigious education school by keeping the interests of her students front and center. Therefore, it only made sense that she would want to reform Teachers College’s troubling reliance on ideologically charged “dispositions” in assessing student performance after being informed of the problem with doing so. Here’s a quick recap, taken […]

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  • Litmus Tests at Teachers College: Changes to Come?

    May 17, 2007

    Earlier this month, FIRE wrote Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman to remind her that FIRE hasn’t forgotten about her school’s use of ideological litmus tests to evaluate students. Torch readers will remember that Teachers College employs a set of “dispositions” to grade student performance. One of these dispositions—“Respect for Diversity and Commitment to Social Justice”—requires students to demonstrate their commitment to “social justice” in order to successfully complete their course of study at Teachers College. Because evaluating a student based on their demonstrated commitment to “social justice” necessarily requires an institutional definition of what is and is not socially just, […]

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  • FIRE in the ‘Chronicle’ on Political Litmus Tests for Education Students

    March 26, 2007

    One of the ongoing scandals in higher education that FIRE has been keeping track of—and fighting—is the existence of political litmus tests at schools of education and social work across the country. And I don’t mean political litmus tests for professors, which is what most people think of when they think of bias in academia. I mean litmus tests for students, which may be even scarier. The problems and concerns with having a faculty that shares one monolithic political perspective have been well-publicized and are widely known. But while ideological uniformity among the faculty is a problem, forced ideological uniformity […]

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  • The Battle against Ideological Litmus Tests for Education Students: A Work in Progress

    December 29, 2006

    Freedom of conscience won a significant victory this year when the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), a leading accreditor of education schools, agreed under pressure from FIRE and other groups to drop its recommendation that education students demonstrate a belief in “social justice” in order to graduate. Many individual schools of education still maintain “social justice” requirements or other ideological litmus tests, but they can no longer fall back on the excuse that they need such tests for accreditation, making them more difficult to defend. Now, FIRE is taking the fight to individual education schools. This […]

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  • FIRE in ‘The New York Times’ on Free Speech at Columbia

    October 23, 2006

    Columbia University’s recent struggles with free speech were covered in the pages of The New York Times on Sunday, with an article concentrating on questions about Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s commitment to free speech on campus. In the article, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff points out that while Bollinger’s public statements endorse free speech, questions remain as to whether Bollinger can “walk the walk” when it comes to issues of free expression on campus. FIRE is continuing its efforts to ensure that Columbia lives up to Bollinger’s promises of freedom of thought and expression with a follow-up letter sent to the […]

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  • Asking Bollinger to ‘Walk the Walk’ in ‘The New York Times’

    October 23, 2006

    An article in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times contrasted Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s reputation as a First Amendment scholar with the rapidly growing perception of Columbia as a campus that stifles students’ fundamental freedoms. The article by Karen Arenson and Tamar Lewin pointed out that Columbia has been involved in four separate free-speech disputes in just the past month: over the language in a hockey club’s flier; the retraction of an invitation to the president of Iran to speak on campus; the use of an ideological litmus test by Teachers College; and the violent melee that shut down […]

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  • At Columbia Teachers College, a Serious Problem with an Easy Solution

    October 16, 2006

    Reading some of the coverage of FIRE’s opposition to Columbia Teachers College’s “social justice” requirement, I believe there are a few important points that need to be emphasized. One is that the change FIRE is asking for is really rather modest. It simply isn’t right to have a policy that says that students must demonstrate their belief in any ideology—whether that ideology be patriotism or social justice—at a college that claims to highly value individual freedom. Teachers College’s requirement that students demonstrate a “commitment” to “social justice” crosses a line from suggesting values to which educators believe students might wish […]

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  • ‘Torch’ Reader Responds To Teachers College Controversy

    October 13, 2006

    Torch reader David Ross writes in with a useful take on the ideological litmus test controversy at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Responding to Teachers College President Susan Furhman’s letter to FIRE, Ross writes: I am impressed that President Fuhrman has written a response to FIRE. But I am not impressed with her logic. For example, she writes: We teach a concern for social justice, but do not legislate a vision of what social justice is. What does it mean to teach concern for something without saying what the thing is for which you’re trying to inculcate concern? If you’re teaching students to be […]

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  • FIRE’s Challenge to Ideological Litmus Tests at Columbia’s Teachers College in the ‘New York Post’ and ‘Sun’

    October 12, 2006

    FIRE’s criticism of vague and politically loaded “social justice” requirements at Teachers College, the graduate school of education at Columbia University, has garnered attention in the New York media today. The New York Sun has an article on Teachers College’s policies and an editorial opining that such requirements exemplify how Columbia has forsaken merit for indoctrination. A column by FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff and Robert Shibley also appears in today’s New York Post, explaining that Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s recent affirmations of free speech are inconsistent with Teachers College’s ideological requirements. Stay tuned as FIRE continues to fight this battle for […]

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  • Columbia University Ignores Objections to Thought Reform Amid Free Speech Controversy

    October 10, 2006

    NEW YORK, October 11, 2006—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on Teachers College—Columbia University’s graduate school of education—to abandon its ideological litmus tests for students. These policies are manifestly inconsistent with Teachers College’s written promises of free speech and academic freedom as well as with Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s recent statements on the importance of free expression at Columbia University. Teachers College’s Conceptual Framework, which represents the “philosophy for teacher education at Teachers College,” requires students to possess a “commitment to social justice.” Moreover, students are expected to recognize that “social inequalities are often produced and […]

    » Read More