‘Cultural Competency’ at the University of Oregon

June 7, 2005

The University of Oregon, a school already familiar to FIRE, has been heavily criticized for the content of a proposed “diversity plan” designed to help increase minority enrollment at the university. The Register-Guard of Eugene, Ore., recently ran an article on the controversy. According to that article, one of the most controversial aspects of the plan was that “it would require a ‘demonstrable commitment to cultural competency’ in tenure and post-tenure reviews.” The “cultural competency” portion of this draft is deeply disturbing on two levels.  First, no matter how “cultural competency” is defined, it imposes a type of “loyalty oath” on professors in violation of their constitutionally protected freedom of conscience. The University of Oregon is a public university, an agency of the state of Oregon. As such, the “cultural competency” requirement amounts to nothing less than a requirement that professors conform both their thoughts and their expressions to an official state-sponsored viewpoint. That may pass muster in Vietnam, but it does not pass muster in America, where freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are sacred. Second, when confronted with the vagueness of the term “cultural competency,” University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer provided a deeply offensive definition. According to the Register-Guard, President Frohnmayer said that “to me [cultural competency] means that we are able to effectively reach all of the students who have demonstrated their competence to be in the university but for whom, because of cultural background, traditional techniques of teaching may not be as effective as others” (emphasis added). If you cut through the politically correct newspeak in that quote and think about what Frohnmayer seems actually to be saying, his comment is ridiculous and patronizing. It is bad enough that this patronizing attitude prevails at American colleges and universities; the fact that the University of Oregon now wants to coerce its professors into sharing this attitude is unconscionable.

Schools:  University of Oregon