Complete Victory in Washington

February 28, 2006

As today’s press release announces, FIRE won a huge victory for liberty at Washington State University. As you may remember from last year, WSU education student Ed Swan ran into some big problems and was restored to his rights:

When one professor specifically invited him to “write what you really feel” and “feel comfortable in class,” Swan did so. He noted, for example, that he is a “conservative Christian,” believes that “white privilege and male privilege do not exist,” and opposes gun control. Swan then received negative evaluations on “dispositions” commanding him to be “sensitive to community and cultural norms,” “appreciate[e] and valu[e] human diversity,” and “sho[w] respect for others’ varied talents and perspectives”—expressly because of his beliefs.

These poor evaluations led Washington State to subject Swan to diversity training and order him to sign an agreement to abide by all the “dispositions” to his professors’ satisfaction, under penalty of dismissal. After FIRE informed Washington State President V. Lane Rawlins that this agreement represented an unconstitutional loyalty oath—in this case, loyalty to the university’s approved political viewpoints—Washington State quickly agreed to rescind the requirement. It also later agreed not to use “dispositions” theory in an unconstitutional manner.

The news we are reporting now is even better. Not only have Ed Swan’s rights been vindicated—WSU has completely abandoned the blatantly unconstitutional “dispositions” evaluations it used to punish him. Here’s how we explained these “dispositions,” which are being used at countless universities nationwide:

Washington State’s then-current “dispositions” criteria, similar to those used at colleges of education nationwide, required students to have a commitment to vague ideological concepts such as “appreciat[ing] and valu[ing] human diversity,” sensitivity to “community and cultural norms,” and respecting “others’ varied talents and perspectives.” WSU made no effort to ensure that these broad requirements were not used to discriminate against students with political perspectives that might conflict with those of their professors. Other education programs require students to have a commitment to “social justice,” another oft-politicized concept.

Judging whether education students are good teachers and treat children well is not, of course, unconstitutional. But claiming, as WSU did, that someone who likes to hunt and finds his professors’ notion of “diversity” to be partisan cannot possibly teach children well is way out of bounds. We are glad to see WSU so totally abolish its former edifice of ideological coercion, and we will continue to seek to restore liberty wherever else “dispositions” may threaten it—no matter which end of the political and ideological spectrum might be seeking to impose itself in any given situation.