University of Delaware Residence Life Case Featured in New AAUP E-Journal

By January 28, 2010

FIRE’s highly publicized case at the University of Delaware, where Residence Life officials implemented a harrowing ideological re-education program for all 7,000 students in the residence halls, has gotten even more publicity lately in an excellent essay (PDF) by University of Delaware professor Jan Blits. Writing for the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP’s) new e-journal, the AAUP Journal of Academic Freedom, Blits focuses on the most illiberal, coercive, and downright scary elements of the program:

The program combined intimidation and humiliation, coercion and indoctrination, to inculcate a hardline ideological stance favored by ResLife officials. … One Residence Life administrator said that the program was meant to leave "a mental footprint on [students'] consciousness." The University’s own official materials described it as "a treatment": "through the … curriculum experience (a treatment), specific attitudinal or behavioral changes (learning) will occur" (parentheses in the original).

One part of the program was one-on-one sessions in which Residence Assistants would interview newly arrived freshmen and have them fill out questionnaires about their personal thoughts and lives. "When did you discover your sexual identity?" one question asked. "When was a time you felt oppressed?" Staff members kept individual files on the students and their beliefs. The files were to be archived after graduation. Residence Assistants were also required to report their "best" and "worst" one-on-one sessions to their superiors, who, in turn, reported them (along with students’ names and room numbers) in their annual review. When one student, asked about her sexual identity, replied, "That is none of your damn business," she not only became listed as the Residence Assistant’s "worst"; she also received an "incident report," which is what a student gets for serious rowdy behavior. The same Residence Assistant’s "best" one-on-one session involved a student who complained that she "grew up with a racist and opinionated father," who, "when [he] found out that she registered as a Democrat … sat her down and had a talk with her as to why…she should be a Republican."

Another part of the program was group sessions. These sessions, requiring students to take public stands on controversial social and political issues, usually without the opportunity to explain themselves, singled out and shamed nonminority students for their "privilege" in American society. If students approved of gay marriage, for example, they were to stand on one side of the room; if they disapproved, on the other. No one was allowed to stay in the middle because, the students were told, the real world is polarized like this. Nor was anyone allowed to opt out. The group sessions, one Residence Assistant e-mailed her students, gave her "a chance to know how everyone’s doing and where everyone stands on certain issues or topics. Not to scare anyone or anything, but these are MANDATORY!!" Where the one-on-one sessions intruded upon their private, even intimate, lives, the group sessions publicly pressured the students. The former violated the moral autonomy of students; the latter compelled them to conform.

Blits aptly describes the extensive re-education program under the heading "Residence Life as Soul-Craft." I describe most of the same details, and much more, in my article in FIRE’s journal The Lantern.

Blits further explains that the whole educational program existed without the knowledge, vetting, or support of the university’s own faculty, asserting an unprecedented level of administrative control over traditional faculty prerogatives. I encourage Torch readers to read the entire paper, and I congratulate the AAUP for launching its new e-journal.

Schools: University of Delaware