The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) aspires to provide "the best public undergraduate educational experience in the nation." The school has declared that "liberal learning" involves three elements: "Intellectual and Scholarly Growth," "Civic Responsibility," and "Human Inquiry." In order to get an undergraduate degree at TCNJ, students must complete the liberal learning requirements.
An alert reader of The Torch (who has been following our work at the University of Delaware and Wisconsin-Oshkosh) has pointed out to us that TCNJ already knows what the civic responsibilities of citizens are, saving students the trouble of determining their own conceptions of civic duty and personal responsibility. How lucky for the students of TCNJ! Students apparently will not count as responsible citizens until they internalize and act on "deep understandings of ways race, ethnicity, and gender have shaped local and global communities"—and unsurprisingly, the contents of these "understandings" are determined by the school itself.
- understanding the nature of race and ethnicity
- understanding the nature and impact of gender
- achieving global awareness
- community-engaged learning
There’s nothing objectionable in these general goals in terms of students’ right to come to their own understandings of these topics. But the devil’s in the details. According to TCNJ’s statement of "Goals and Outcomes," TCNJ students must "understand" the following declarations of fact (and more) propounded by TCNJ:
- Students should understand the arbitrary and socially defined nature of race as well as analyze the ways race and racism maintain positions of class, power, and privilege in America.
- Students … should understand how gender is a central category of analysis that informs our interpretation of human experience.
- Students should understand that gender is socially constructed. They should be able to analyze family, education, labor, religion, and government as they are shaped by gendered constructs. Further, they should be able to explain how gender intersects with other constructed patterns of privilege and oppression in society, such as race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation.
- Students should think critically, analytically, and inclusively about their society. They should develop a hands-on understanding of class, power, and privilege.
I especially like the contradiction in that last one. On the one hand, all TCNJ students are to think critically and analytically. On the other hand, TCNJ already knows the highly politicized outcomes that all responsible critical and analytic thinking must reach. Only the courses that promote these outcomes make it to the approved list, for otherwise they would not fit these "liberal learning" requirements. And students must take such courses in order to graduate. This is indoctrination, not liberal learning.
Students at TCNJ are promised in the Student Handbook that
The professor in the classroom and in conference encourages free discussion, inquiry, and expression. Students are evaluated on the basis of academic performance, not on opinion or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.
To repeat, the problem here is that matters of opinion have become the academic standards at TCNJ when it comes to "civic responsibility." Could any student in one of the approved courses feel that his or her grade is safe in arguing, for instance, that race is NOT "arbitrary and socially defined" when the college curriculum itself officially promotes the contrary position? I wouldn’t.
For more about FIRE’s efforts against thought reform on college campuses, see our Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus, available free and online.