John Leo

In 1997, the National Association of Social Work (NASW) altered its ethics code, ruling that all social workers must promote social justice "from local to global level." This call for mandatory advocacy raised the question: what kind of political action did the highly liberal field of social work have in mind? The answer wasn't long in coming. The Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditor of social work education programs, says candidates must fight "oppression," and sees American society as pervaded by the "global interconnections of oppression." Now aspiring social workers must commit themselves, usually in writing, to a culturally left agenda, often including diversity programs, state-sponsored redistribution of income, and a readiness to combat heterosexism, ableism, and classism.

This was all too much for the National Association of Scholars. The NAS has just released a six-month study of social work education, examining the ten largest programs at public universities for which information was available. The report, "The Scandal of Social Work," says these programs "have lost sight of the difference between instruction and indoctrination to a scandalous extent. They have, for the most part, adopted an official ideological line, closing off debate on many questions that serious students of public policy would admit to be open to the play of contending viewpoints."

Nine of the ten programs, the NAS reports, require students to accept the ideology-saturated NASW code of ethics to get a degree in social work. The University of Central Florida says students "must comply" with the code of ethics if they wish to remain in school. Failure to accept the code constitutes "academic misconduct" in the University of Michigan program and "can result in disciplinary action" at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.

"Diversity/multiculturalism" and "oppression" were among the most common themes in coursework. The report notes, "Although it's certainly true that racism has been oppressive in American history, it seems question-begging to assume that ‘oppression' is a leading cause of poverty in the modern U.S. And it is far from clear that the only pathway to a non-racist or egalitarian society passes through the gateway or multiculturalism."

The NAS called on government agencies at the federal, state and local level "to cease requiring that social workers hold degrees from CSWE accredited programs in order to be hired." By associating themselves with the ideological tests in the CSWE standards and NASW code, "such agencies violate constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and religious conscience."

At schools of education, the buzzword "dispositions" carries the message of politicized advocacy. Ed schools once required aspiring teachers to display only competence and knowledge. Then the amorphous criterion of "dispositions" appeared, referring vaguely to habits and attitudes that teachers must have. The National Council for Accreditation of Teachers of English (NCATE) said education departments could "include some measure of a candidate's commitment to social justice"—in effect ruling that public school teachers could be evaluated on their perceptions of what social justice requires.

This opened a door to reject candidates on the basis of thoughts and beliefs. It also allowed ed schools to infer bad character from a political stance that the schools opposed. At Washington State University, where the college of education tried to expel a conservative student, the dean was asked whether Justice Antonin Scalia could pass a dispositions test at her school. "I don't know how to answer that," she replied.

Interventions by free speech and religious liberties groups induced a few schools to back down in well-publicized cases of abuse. At Missouri State University's undergraduate social work program, Emily Brooker received a "C" after complaining that professor Frank Kauffman "routinely engaged in leftist diatribes." Kauffman instructed Brooker's class to write the state legislature urging legal approval of adoption by gays. She refused on religious and moral grounds. As a result, Brooker was brought up on very serious charges; to get her degree, she had to promise to abide by the NASW code. After graduation, she sued and won a settlement.

In an attention-getting article, Stanford education school professor William Damon wrote that ed schools "have been given unbounded power over what candidates may think and do, what they may believe and value." In what seemed to be an exercise in damage control, NCATE president Arthur Wise said he agreed with Damon that it is not acceptable for ed schools to assess social and political beliefs.

Still, the ideology behind disposition theory and social justice requirements is intact and strongly holds sway in the schools. It dovetails with the general attitude on campuses that promoting liberal advocacy in the classroom is legitimate and necessary. So long as government agencies collaborate with the social work programs and ed schools, reform will remain a long way off.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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