Trustees | General Education

U. of Delaware lightens up talks on student life

THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER   |  May 21, 2008 by Kathy Boccella

The University of Delaware has adopted a revamped residence life program, replacing controversial discussions of race, politics and sex with lessons on personal development, citizenship and environmentalism.

The board of trustees on Monday approved the toned-down curriculum, which will be implemented in the fall for about 7,000 students in eight residence complexes on the Newark campus.

Critics say they remain skeptical about the program, which caused an uproar last fall after students complained that they were being forced to adopt political views and reveal personal information, such as their sexual orientation.

University officials did not return calls for comment.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni called the board’s vote “deeply disappointing” and said the plan still sought to shape students’ “thoughts, values, beliefs and actions.”

“This is part of a residence life program that’s being promoted by the staff, so we raise questions about the use of public dollars in this way,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which had called for an end to the former program, said the new version was “huge progress” but was being administered by the same people who ran the old one.

A public furor erupted after students complained that they were pressed into agreeing with a political ideology in which white people were oppressors of minorities and were asked to discuss their sexuality with resident advisers, who are typically upperclassmen or graduate students.

The students said they were told attendance was mandatory, a claim disputed by the university.

The program was discontinued in November after president Patrick T. Hager agreed that there were “reasons for concern.”

The new plan focuses more on traditional dorm subject matter such as personal safety, wellness and stress management, said Matthew Robinson, chairman of the Faculty Senate’s Student Life Committee, which worked with the university on the revised plan.

The senate voted 45-7 in favor of it May 12.

“They felt all of the problems had been solved and a process was in place to solve any future problems that may arise,” said senate president Alan Fox.

The most significant change is that students will be told up front that all programs, except for the opening floor or building meeting, are voluntary.

“There will be no coercion whatsoever to attend the meetings,” Fox said.

Another big shift is that all educational programs will be taught by full-time faculty and staff rather than resident advisers, some of whom had been criticized by students for initiating discussions on sensitive, personal topics.

“They were doing counseling and things that were way beyond their training and capacity,” Fox said.

There will also be more oversight from the senate and the Student Life Department, he said.

In defending the revised program, Fox said dorms were “the perfect melting pot” to teach citizenship and environmentalism.

“There are a lot of people living in a little bit of space. Issues of how to use resources and how to get along together are obvious,” he said.

One of the problems with the former program, which was in place for four years, was that its implementation was flawed, he added.

“If anybody had paid attention, it would have been obvious to everyone it was being done in the wrong way,” Fox said.


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