Grad Student Allegedly Downgraded for Conservative Stance

February 28, 2005

Rhode Island College is under fire for allegedly forcing a student to lobby the state legislature for college-approved policies.

Master’s student Bill Felkner says the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College (RIC) threatened to reduce his grades if he did not lobby for the school’s position on welfare issues. David French with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says the trouble began when Felkner objected to the showing of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 in Professor James Ryczek’s social work class last Fall.


French explains that when Felkner wrote the professor about his liberal ideological bias, Ryczek responded in an e-mail that stated “I revel in my biases.” And according to the FIRE spokesman, the educator also suggested that if indeed Felkner was a conservative, he should find a different profession because, as suggested by Ryczek, “social work is a profession for liberals,” says French.


That apparently did not sit well with Felkner. “Bill objected to this e-mail, put it on the web and talked about it on local radio,” French says, “and ever since that time he’s been subjected to what looks like a campaign of retaliation: failing him from the course [and] forcing him to lobby for points of view that he doesn’t agree with.” The FIRE official calls the whole episode “an astonishing campaign of repression and intimidation.”


According to French, there appears to be little tolerance for ideological diversity on the campus.


“One of the problems here is they’ve told Bill that he has to work in a group when he lobbies — yet there’s no group that wants to form to lobby a conservative point of view on some of these issues,” he says. “So to form a group, he’s had to have conformed to liberal ideas, which is just astonishing.


“Even if you have a group project, you cannot require an individual person to lobby the legislature on behalf of policies and ideas with which that person disagrees.”


RIC spokesperson Jane Fusco says “no student has ever been punished, academically or otherwise, for failing to hold or take a particular social or political belief.” RIC president John Nazarian says he is not at liberty to comment on the matter.

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Schools: Rhode Island College Cases: Rhode Island College: Violation of Student’s Freedom of Conscience