FIRE Warns Department of Health and Human Services Against Supporting Political Litmus Tests on Campus

October 25, 2006

PHILADELPHIA, October 25, 2006—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) today asked the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action against political litmus tests in America’s schools of social work. Currently, HHS requires its social workers to have degrees from programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), whose standards require evaluating students on the basis of their beliefs. FIRE urged HHS to end its relationship with CSWE unless CSWE drops these vague and politically loaded standards, a request echoed in similar letters sent today by the National Association of Scholars and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

“By requiring that its social workers come from CSWE-accredited schools, HHS is tacitly approving viewpoint discrimination,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “HHS should take steps to ensure that CSWE eliminates the ideological requirements it currently places on universities and students.”

CSWE maintains a set of official standards on the basis of which it decides whether or not to accredit a social work program. The standards require that CSWE-accredited programs “integrate social and economic justice content grounded in an understanding of distributive justice, human and civil rights, and the global interconnections of oppression.” They also require that graduates of CSWE-accredited programs “demonstrate the ability to…understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination and apply strategies of advocacy and social change that advance social and economic justice.”

“‘Social justice’ and ‘economic justice’ are vague and politically loaded terms that mean different things to different people, yet CSWE’s standards force schools to evaluate prospective social workers based on their commitment to these ideals,” Lukianoff said. “It’s an invitation for schools to discriminate against students with dissenting views, as FIRE has seen happen many times before.”

Requirements of ideological conformity have led to specific incidents of viewpoint discrimination against students at institutions across the country. Washington State University (WSU) threatened an education master’s student with dismissal for expressing his opinion that white privilege and male privilege do not exist. That sentiment supposedly violated the school’s requirement that students should “exhibit[ ] an understanding of the complexities of race, power, gender, class, sexual orientation and privilege in American society.” Rhode Island College’s School of Social Work required a conservative master’s student to lobby the government for “progressive” social changes if he wanted to continue pursuing a degree in social work policy. At Le Moyne College, a student was dismissed from the graduate education program for writing a paper expressing his personal beliefs about the propriety of corporal punishment.

FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Samantha Harris concluded, “HHS should decisively reject the use of political litmus tests for its social workers. People can hold a wide variety of views and still make excellent social workers.”

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:
Samantha Harris, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; samantha@thefire.org
Julia M. Watkins, Executive Director, Council on Social Work Education: 703-519-2066; jwatkins@cswe.org

Cases: CSWE: Political Litmus Tests at Schools of Social Work