Open Letter to University of Delaware Faculty, May 5, 2008
May 5, 2008
Sent via electronic mail
May 5, 2008
Dear University of Delaware Faculty:
In this letter, I am asking each of you to read the 2008-2009 Residence Life Program Plan with the same level of critical engagement that you use when you are at your best in your field. I believe that if you do so, you will see why the proposal is unworthy of the University of Delaware for its unrelenting inculcation of a highly specific political agenda. Whether or not one agrees with elements of the agenda, a serious reader is likely to agree that this kind of "education" has no place in a residential program.
I do not write you as an outsider. I am in Newark almost every Wednesday, talking with students, because of my affiliation with a student organization on campus. My parents and other relatives are Blue Hen alumni.
And I am not an academic outsider. When I taught freshman humanities and freshman composition at the University of Chicago, my students did not know my religious, political, or social beliefs, but we read and discussed ideas about deeply significant matters without any indoctrination from me. I know for sure that what goes on in the Chicago classroom is nothing at all like what ResLife has planned for the University of Delaware dorms.
And I would be ashamed if faculty members would give up their educational prerogatives to the unrefined intellectual forays of residential staff who have nothing like the education and teaching abilities of the regular faculty.
It is important that those in a position to vote on this issue actually read and carefully think about the proposal. I have read it carefully and have followed ResLife's initiatives closely since October 2007. On the basis of extensive evidence, I strongly believe that ResLife is attempting to use the faculty to restore its highly politicized and unabashedly coercive "sustainability" curriculum. This educational programming plainly goes far, far beyond the environmental initiatives supported at the highest levels of the university. It is intended to be indoctrination into an ideology. The proposal offers only meager, halting respect for the private conscience of UD students.
I have provided an explanation and rationale for these claims in the following places:
http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/9265.html -- distinguishing the UD sustainability initiatives from the ResLife sustainability agenda
http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/9259.html -- analyzing particulars in the proposal
http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/9250.html -- the proposal itself
The ResLife directors are the same people who asked students when they discovered their sexual identity--in private one-on-one meetings with RAs. They gave students questionnaires regarding which genders and races they would befriend and date. They did much more with the explicit goal of pressuring all UD students to conform to ResLife's "correct" views on controversial topics. These are now the same officials who want to take every opportunity--one-on-one sessions with RAs, floor meetings, bulletin boards, parties, and even career exploration sessions--to pressure students to accept ResLife's ideology.
Again, I do not quibble with the merits of any particular ideology. But it is unworthy of a great university or any liberal arts education to begin with certainty about a wide variety of topics and then to embark on a program designed to pressure students to adopt them. Such re-education programs not only violate the Constitution and the canons of academic freedom, but they also are fundamentally at odds with the principles of a free society. Those who are so confident in their own ideology should let their ideas be tested and debated in the unique "marketplace of ideas" that a university offers, not empowered to declare truth with the imprimatur of the faculty.
Please do not let the faculty become complicit in this extremely illiberal program. Do not let yourself be fooled into thinking this is an innocent "citizenship" program.
And do not let yourself be fooled into thinking the damage will be minimal if students can opt out. ResLife has so thoroughly integrated its agenda into the essential information about getting to know the university that for a student to opt out of the educational programming, the student would have to opt out of floor meetings, roommate agreements, hall governance, even parties. It is not appropriate to ask a student to opt out of his or her entire residential experience because of the desire to avoid pressure to conform to ResLife's views.
Programs like the ResLife proposal breed resentment and distrust between staff and students. Recent UD ResLife programs poisoned the attitude of many students towards the University of Delaware. Liberal and conservative students, liberal and conservative RAs, have told me so. Next year's program will do the same if the same officials remain unwilling to defend students' individual autonomy, agency, and right to private conscience.
At the very least, please give the Faculty Senate some time to reasonably consider and debate the proposal. I feel confident that a true debate would reveal its serious problems.
Students and others will be on hand to watch the Faculty Senate this afternoon. Do the school proud instead of letting this great university be shamed once again.
Director, Individual Rights Defense Program
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
601 Walnut Street, Suite 510
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-717-3440 (fax); 215-352-0454 (efax)