Here’s the latest in FIRE’s ongoing reporting on the University of Delaware’s educational program operated by the Office of Residence Life. You can get oriented to this appalling case by watching this video or reading this article. The program, which rose to national attention and criticism two years ago, had the stated goal of getting the approximately 7,000 students in Delaware’s residence halls to adopt highly specific university-approved views on politics, race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism. The mandatory program violated students’ freedom of conscience and even their privacy, such as in one-on-one meetings between students and their Resident Assistants (RAs), where students were asked intrusive questions such as "When did you discover your sexual identity?" Within days after FIRE exposed the program, it was "suspended."
It never entirely died, however. The rest of 2007-2008 was devoted to efforts by the Office of Residence Life to restore many of the elements of the program. Under constant attention from FIRE, concerned faculty, and the public, though, ResLife made little headway but did manage to hide the full program from the university’s Board of Trustees. The central victory for student rights in the matter was that almost nothing in the ResLife educational program was going to be mandatory (even though it was hard for freshmen to figure out how they could safely opt out).
At the end of 2008-2009, when it came time for the University of Delaware faculty to vote on the program for 2009-2010—oops!—there was no vote. A faculty member informs us that the then-president of the Faculty Senate, Alan Fox, misinformed the Senate and stated that the Senate had somehow voted that there would be no more votes on ResLife plans. Here’s what really happened, though (it is instructive to take note of Fox’s behavior at the time).
Not only that, there was a second mistake. Last year’s program was clearly optional, using this language in boldface and italics: "With the exception of the floor and building meetings held at opening, all activities detailed in this plan are attendance-optional." This language, however, entirely dropped out from both the freshman and upperclassman educational plans. While the upperclassman plan does use the word "optional" in a few places, not even the word "optional" appears in the freshman plan. New RAs who have not been on campus and paying attention since 2007 might not realize just how important this mistake could be. It is essential that all RAs and all students know that everything in the ResLife plans are optional.
According to the faculty member, both mistakes will be remedied at the Faculty Senate’s meeting in October. FIRE will be paying attention to ensure that the rights of University of Delaware students in the residence halls are protected.
Take a look at FIRE’s video on the University of Delaware case, "Think What We Think…Or Else: Thought Control on the American Campus."