Last year, FIRE reported that Missouri State University had settled a lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of social work student Emily Brooker. Ms. Brooker sued MSU after she was charged with violating MSU’s “Standards of Essential Functioning” for refusing to lobby the Missouri legislature on behalf of homosexual adoption. David French, Ms. Brooker’s attorney, reports at Phi Beta Cons that MSU has released a report of an investigation undertaken by an outside committee on the state of the MSU social work department. The report is scathing, citing ideological coercion on the part of the faculty against dissenting students and the chilling effect of such actions and policies on the school’s intellectual atmosphere. The report describes the “academic environment” thusly:
Does the academic environment of the School of Social Work promote learning and stimulate an honest and open dialogue in which intellectual differences are shared and respected among students, faculty and staff? Many students and faculty stated a fear of voicing differing opinions from the instructor or colleague. This was particularly true regarding spiritual and religious matters however, students voiced fears about questioning faculty regarding assignments or expectations. In fact “bullying” was used by both students and faculty to characterize specific faculty. It appears that faculty have no history of intellectual discussion/debate. Rather, differing opinions are taken personally and often result in inappropriate discourse. Do the faculty and staff of the School of Social Work model and communicate the CSWE Code of Ethics for students in the program? There is an atmosphere where the Code of Ethics is used in order to coerce students into certain belief systems regarding social work practice and the social work profession. This represents a distorted use of the Social Work Code of Ethics in that the Code of Ethics articulates that social workers should respect the values and beliefs of others.
Admission standards are also targeted as ideologically biased:
There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that admission standards in both the MSW and BSW Programs are applied differentially with possible bias against students who are faith based. It also appears that MSW applicants who clearly do not meet admission standards are admitted to satisfy enrollment expectations.
MSU’s report is encouraging—generally universities try to cover up and excuse their mistakes, and MSU has done neither. MSU should be applauded for expending the effort for some serious self-reflection and its students will no doubt benefit from the overdue recognition that MSU had been providing them with an atmosphere of ideological coercion.