Rhode Island College: Violation of Student’s Freedom of Conscience


Rhode Island College

Search all Cases

Case Overview


At Rhode Island College, graduate student Bill Felkner was asked to publicly advocate "progressive" social changes that he did not believe in. Social work professor Jim Ryczek suggested to Felkner in an e-mail that if he did not agree with the school's political philosophy, he should consider leaving or finding another line of work. Shortly afterwards, Felkner learned that RIC's School of Social Work not only recommended that he adopt a particular ideology but also mandated that he lobby the Rhode Island Legislature for one of several policy positions that he did not support. FIRE wrote to the school, and was assured from RIC President John Nazarian that no student would be made to subscribe to a particular cause. However, Felkner reported that Professor Sue Pearlmutter told him that his grade would be affected if he chose to lobby for an alternative policy position. When Felkner refused to accept an internship that would force him to promote policies he opposed, Lenore Olsen, the chair of the Master's of Social Work Program, informed him in a letter that he could no longer pursue a master's degree in social work policy. Felkner filed suit for denying him a master's degree, and his case is still pending.