Fresh Free Speech Disaster at Columbia: Teachers College Mandates Groupthink

October 11, 2006

When it rains, it pours—and as far as free speech controversies go, it’s monsoon season at Columbia University.
Following two consecutive weeks of widespread public criticism surrounding the University’s suspension of the Men’s Ice Hockey Club and the violent clash that shut down a speech by Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist on campus, Columbia is guilty yet again of trampling individual rights on campus. Today, FIRE issued a press release calling for an immediate end to the serious violations of freedom of expression and conscience occurring at Teachers College, Columbia’s graduate school of education.
Teachers College, long one of the nation’s foremost schools for tomorrow’s educators, requires its students to adhere to a rigid rubric of mandated “Professional Commitments and Dispositions.” While this might sound conventional enough, FIRE’s letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger—which remains unanswered—points out that “these ‘dispositions’ require students to adopt fundamental outlooks with which they might not agree in order to conform to the ‘present consensus vision’ on campus.”
For example, students at Teachers College are expected to demonstrate a “respect for diversity and commitment to social justice.” As FIRE’s letter points out, “[s]uch sentiment, high-minded and harmless though it may seem, amounts to an ideological loyalty oath to an entirely abstract concept—‘social justice’—that can represent vastly different things to different people. The twentieth century well demonstrates that one man’s idea of ‘social justice’ potentially is another man’s idea of totalitarian tyranny. Students enroll at Columbia for the purpose of obtaining the knowledge and skill sets necessary to teach, not to imbibe a narrowly defined set of political views.”
Requiring students to mouth political ideologies that they might not agree with in order to successfully complete a course of study is completely incompatible with Columbia’s stated commitment to academic freedom. Just this past week, President Bollinger wrote an open letter to the university community vigorously defending “the central principle to which we are institutionally dedicated, namely to respect the rights of others to express their views.” How can such a statement possibly be reconciled with Teachers College’s requirements? It can’t.
If students “must recognize ways in which taken-for-granted notions regarding the legitimacy of the social order are flawed” (emphasis added) and “see change agency as a moral imperative,” as required by Teachers College’s “Conceptual Framework,” then students who disagree or hold other views are faced with an impossible choice: reform their political views to conform to the College’s mandatory worldview, or leave. Requiring dissenting students to make that choice is unconscionable for a school that professes to be “committed to a strong principle of academic freedom in teaching and research.”

Schools:  Columbia University