WSU Education Department studying ‘litmus test’

October 20, 2005

Washington State University is reviewing its policies on evaluating the character of students in the teacher training program after a student alleged the College of Education was biased against conservatives.

Provost Robert Bates said Tuesday the matter is under review within the college, which is under fire for evaluating students in a way that makes personal political beliefs grounds for failure.

At issue is an evaluation form that asks if a student exhibits an understanding of the complexities of race, power, gender, class, sexual orientation and privilege in American society.

Ed Swan, 42, failed four Professional Dispositions Evaluation forms filled out by Education faculty and was threatened with termination from the program in August.

Swan, a self-employed landscaper from Othello, is a conservative Christian who is outspoken in his views about politics, race, social change, religion, and the Constitution. He doesn’t support affirmative action and he doesn’t feel gays should adopt children.

In August, a national civil liberties group, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, intervened on his behalf. That prompted WSU to reverse its threatened expulsion of Swan.

The PDE forms are still in use within the teacher training program, but the dean thinks the issue has been blown out of proportion.

“I’d like to put this in perspective,” said Judy Mitchell. “We’ve evaluated 1,364 students under our current standards over the past three years and 1,330 have been recommended for teacher certification.”

Of the 34 who haven’t been recommended, some are still doing their student teaching, while others had health problems or a change in major, she said.

The College of Education has used the forms for the past four years, in keeping with standards put forth by the national accreditation agency that oversees education programs. State law also requires an evaluation of student character.

“I don’t use the term character, I would say fitness to teach, but the law uses character,” Mitchell said.

Teachers have a wide range of beliefs, she said. The issue is whether they can teach all children fairly.

In an interview earlier this fall, Mitchell said she didn’t know if conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia could pass the evaluation.

The controversy has drawn the attention of state Rep. Don Cox, R-Colfax, and state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who represent WSU.

“If a (Supreme Court) justice could conceivably not meet any institution’s criteria for dispositions acceptable to the profession, the institution must change,” said Cox, a former faculty member in the College of Education.

“You hear about this kind of thing on the radio, with someone kept out of something at a university because of their conservative views,” Schoesler said. “But here it is happening in our own back yard.”

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Schools: Washington State University Cases: Washington State University: Use of Dispositions Theory to Enforce Ideological Orthodoxy