FIRE Warns Department of Education Against Supporting Political Litmus Tests on Campus

June 5, 2006

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2006—Today, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), will urge a Department of Education (DOE) committee to take action against unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination in schools of education. FIRE is also issuing a policy statement containing a summary of the key points that Lukianoff will make to the committee.

“For years the Department of Education has recognized an institution that is encouraging political litmus tests on campus,” said Lukianoff. “DOE should think carefully about the importance of the First Amendment and the essentiality of academic freedom before renewing its recognition of NCATE.”

FIRE believes that the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is abusing its power as a governmentally-authorized accreditor of education schools to promote the use of “dispositions,” a method of student evaluation that often requires professors to evaluate their students’ commitment to vague concepts such as “social justice” and “diversity” in conjunction with their actual scholastic achievement.

NCATE maintains a set of official standards on the basis of which it decides whether or not to accredit an education program. The standards require that candidates in an education program “demonstrate the content, pedagogical, and professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help all students learn.” NCATE’s standards state that dispositions “are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice.” The standards also require students and faculty in an education program to demonstrate a commitment to “diversity.”

“‘Social justice’ and ‘diversity’ are vague and politically loaded terms that mean different things to different people,” Lukianoff stated. “NCATE’s suggestion that it is appropriate to judge prospective teachers based on their commitment to these nebulous ideals is an invitation to discriminate against teacher candidates with dissenting views.”

NCATE’s recognition as an authorized accreditor is being reviewed today by a committee of the Department of Education, and FIRE will be in Washington to warn the committee that NCATE’s endorsement of “dispositions” poses a real and grave threat to freedom of conscience at our nation’s schools of education. The National Association of Scholars, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert will also argue against these vague and easily abused standards.

“The Department of Education must decisively reject the use of ideological litmus tests for teachers,” declared Lukianoff. “The use of ‘dispositions’ criteria to evaluate teacher candidates can and does lead to unlawful viewpoint discrimination.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@thefire.org

Cases: NCATE: Encouragement of Political Litmus Tests in Higher Education