FIRE’s Adam Kissel was among the first-prize winners of the National Education Writers Association (EWA) 2008 National Awards for Education Reporting. Following the announcement this past spring, EWA collected narratives from several of the authors, in which they discuss how they came across and developed the source material for their prize-winning articles. The end result, "How I Did the Story 2008," features more than a dozen fascinating author accounts of chance phone calls, using the public record to good advantage, and good old-fashioned investigative journalism. We’re proud to see Adam’s story among them.
As many Torch readers know, FIRE’s intervention at the University of Delaware was sparked by a curious professor who had received complaints from some of his students about the nature of UD’s residence hall program. What ensued was one of the most appalling cases in FIRE’s ten-year history and the exposure of the most invasive and disrespectful indoctrination program we’ve ever encountered. The case’s development was authoritatively chronicled by Adam in his award-winning Lantern article, "Thought Reform at the University of Delaware."
As Adam told the EWA:
Since 1999, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has been exposing "thought reform" programs and other abuses of freedom of conscience and individual rights against U.S. college students and faculty. Rarely, however, does the director of such a program proudly hand over the documentation on such a program to a concerned faculty member! This is what happened at the University of Delaware.
It was hard to believe that the program we saw on paper was really so invasive of students’ privacy and other rights in practice. The same professor, however, put me in touch with several honors students who were undergoing the "treatment." We soon documented that the program was mandatory, that students were pressured to reveal their sexual identity and their feelings about deep personal and political issues, that students were bullied in one-on-one sessions with resident assistants, and that coercive group activities were designed to lead to specific new beliefs about politics, economics, religion, society, and science.
After we published our first story on the program, more students and resident assistants came forward with stories about the Residence Life staff and new documents, corroborating and extending our understanding of the program. The directors’ professional writings showed that the Residence Life agenda was part of a systematic attempt by student affairs professionals nationwide to change the thoughts, values, attitudes, beliefs, and actions of students outside the classroom under the guise of teaching "citizenship values." For them, "sustainability" encompassed a worldwide "imperative" so important that individual rights were expendable.