Rhode Island College: Violation of Student’s Freedom of Conscience

Category: Free Speech, Freedom of Conscience
Schools: Rhode Island College

At Rhode Island College, graduate student Bill Felkner was asked to publicly advocate “progressive” social changes that he did not believe in. Social work professor Jim Ryczek suggested to Felkner in an e-mail that if he did not agree with the school’s political philosophy, he should consider leaving or finding another line of work. Shortly afterwards, Felkner learned that RIC’s School of Social Work not only recommended that he adopt a particular ideology but also mandated that he lobby the Rhode Island Legislature for one of several policy positions that he did not support. FIRE wrote to the school, and was assured from RIC President John Nazarian that no student would be made to subscribe to a particular cause. However, Felkner reported that Professor Sue Pearlmutter told him that his grade would be affected if he chose to lobby for an alternative policy position. When Felkner refused to accept an internship that would force him to promote policies he opposed, Lenore Olsen, the chair of the Master’s of Social Work Program, informed him in a letter that he could no longer pursue a master’s degree in social work policy. Felkner filed suit for denying him a master’s degree, and his case is still pending.

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    February 28, 2005

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    February 23, 2005

    PROVIDENCE, R.I., February 23, 2005—The School of Social Work at Rhode Island College (RIC) has threatened to reduce a student’s grades if he chooses not to lobby the Rhode Island legislature for policies with which he disagrees.  Last fall, master’s student Bill Felkner received a failing grade after protesting a professor’s admitted bias in class and after writing an essay in connection with a lobbying assignment that dissented from that professor’s approved perspective.   Felkner’s situation comes in the wake of RIC’s attempt to punish a professor for refusing to censor constitutionally protected speech. “Nobody should be coerced by the state […]

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