NEWARK, Del., November 2, 2007—After an intense campaign led by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the University of Delaware has dropped an ideological reeducation program that was referred to in the university’s own materials as a “treatment” for students’ incorrect attitudes and beliefs. The program’s stated goal was for 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. Following FIRE’s campaign, which called the attention of the national media and the blogosphere to the Orwellian program, university President Patrick Harker terminated the program, effective immediately.
“FIRE applauds President Harker for recognizing the chilling nature of this program and ending it,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Under the First Amendment, state institutions have no right to impose mandatory ideological training on their students. We are thrilled that this unconscionable and invasive program is gone, but we will be keeping an eye on the University of Delaware to make sure future programs respect the individual right of conscience of its students.”
Under the program, students were required to attend training sessions, floor meetings, and “one-on-one” meetings with their Resident Assistants (RAs). The university also instructed RAs to ask intrusive personal questions during one-on-one sessions, including “When did you discover your sexual identity?” A student who responded, “That is none of your damn business,” was, according to the university’s own materials, written up—along with the student’s name and room number—as having one of the “wors[t] one-on-one” sessions.
The program’s materials stated that the goal of the residence life education program was for students in the university’s residence halls to achieve certain “competencies” that the university decreed its students must develop in order to achieve the overall educational goal of “citizenship.” These “competencies” included: “Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society,” “Students will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression,” and “Students will be able to utilize their knowledge of sustainability to change their daily habits and consumer mentality.” And in the Office of Residence Life’s internal materials, the program was described using the harrowing language of ideological reeducation, including referring to the program as “treatment” and defining “learning” as “specific attitudinal or behavioral changes.”
Following FIRE’s initial press release, the university’s administration first chose to defend its invasive and unconstitutional residence life education program. However, in a statement released late yesterday, President Harker stated, “I have directed that the program be stopped immediately. No further activities under the current framework will be conducted.” Harker also called for a “full and broad-based review” of the program’s practices and purposes.
While FIRE commends Harker’s decision, concerns remain about some aspects of life in the residence halls. For example, FIRE would like to know if RAs are still required to immediately report “[a]ny instance that is perceived by those involved as being racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, or otherwise oppressive.”
The assistance of the Delaware Association of Scholars was critical in the effort to eliminate the program, as was the willingness of Delaware students and RAs to attest to their experiences under this “treatment” program. The case also drew vast attention from the blogosphere, dramatically increasing the pressure on the university to either justify or abandon its thought reform program.
“Universities often cannot defend in public what they try to do in private, and the situation at Delaware was no exception,” Lukianoff said. “While we are pleased that this program is over, it is stunning that it ever existed at a public university in the United States. FIRE will continue to monitor the situation at Delaware and to fight against other ideological reeducation programs at schools across the nation.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our campuses. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at the University of Delaware and elsewhere can be seen by visiting www.thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Samantha Harris, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
Patrick Harker, President, University of Delaware: 302-831-2111; firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathleen G. Kerr, Director of Residence Life, University of Delaware: 302-831-1201; email@example.com