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This Month in FIRE History: 'Education Programs May Have a 'Disposition' for Censorship'

One year ago this month, FIRE launched in earnest its campaign against vague and politically loaded ‘dispositions’ standards in education programs. As our press release reported:

A new trend in campus censorship is emerging: this summer, Washington State University used “dispositions” theory to punish an education student for his political and religious expression. The university relented only after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) became involved.

“Dispositions” theory, increasingly in vogue in education programs, requires professors to evaluate their students’ commitment to concepts such as “social justice” and “diversity” in conjunction with their actual scholastic achievement. Just last month, FIRE had to intervene when Brooklyn College professor K. C. Johnson was threatened with a secret investigation for questioning the use of the theory at his college.

Then, Washington State’s College of Education threatened 42-year-old student Ed Swan with dismissal for allegedly violating two vague “disposition” standards. Swan was also subjected to mandatory diversity training—all because of clearly protected speech.

It is truly remarkable that some schools of education seem to believe that college officials can evaluate students’ commitment to something as vague, subjective, and politically loaded as “social justice” without evaluating them on their political beliefs, rather than their performance as teachers. Our campaign against these political litmus tests so far has been quite successful. Six months after FIRE issued this release, Washington State University completely abandoned the amorphous standards it had used to punish Ed Swan. Months after that victory, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the leading national accrediting agency for education schools, abandoned the language in its guidelines recommending that education students demonstrate a belief in “social justice” in order to graduate.
While both of these victories show crucial progress in the battle for freedom of conscience on campus, many schools still maintain highly politicized standards for evaluating students. FIRE is currently investigating these schools and plans to ask them this basic question: is it really the role of educational institutions in a free society to declare what the internal beliefs of their students must be?
Stay tuned.

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