ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA Defends Free Inquiry at Rhode Island College

June 1, 2005 by ACTA

Rhode Island College's School of Social Work has expelled a student for refusing to conform to the school's openly partisan political agenda. The trouble began last fall, when Robert Felkner wrote an email to one of his professors questioning the political bias of his teaching. The professor replied by suggesting that the problem was not his doctrinaire pedagogy so much it as was Felkner's personal politics: "I revel in my biases," he wrote. "So, I think anyone who consistently holds antithetical views to those that are espoused by the profession might ask themselves whether social work is the profession for them . . . or similarly, if one finds the views in the curriculum at RIC SSW antithetical to those they hold closely, then this particular school might not be a good fit for them."

Felkner's academic experience deteriorated from there. The same professor who suggested Felkner and his politics were not welcome in either the school or the profession of social work required Felkner, as a member of his class, to lobby the Rhode Island legislature for a policy position he did not support; when he wrote a paper criticizing the policy position he finally did choose, reluctantly, to lobby for, he received a failing grade. "You did not write from the perspective you were required to use in this academic exercise," his professor wrote. "Therefore, the paper is must [sic] receive a failing grade."

Most recently, when Felkner attempted to fulfill the School of Social Work's policy internship requirement by working in the policy department of Republican Rhode Island Governor Donald L. Carcieri, he was expelled. To fulfill the requirement, an internship must meet eleven criteria, six of which mandate that students work toward advancing "progressive" policies. In choosing to do his internship in the office of a Republican official, Felkner ensured that he would fail RIC's ideological litmus test.

Rhode Island College's rank disregard for the most basic ethical and educative principles--the free exchange of ideas, open and unfettered debate, respect for honest intellectual inquiry--combined with its cavalier willingness to discriminate openly against a student whose views differ from those the school endorses, has begun to draw the attention of campus watchdog groups across the country. FIRE has been defending Felkner for months, and last week, when Felkner was expelled, ACTA wrote to the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education. Noting that "it is unconscionable for any college to impose a political or ideological litmus test on its students as a condition for a degree or entry into a profession," ACTA's letter is an impassioned plea for the Board to "meet its obligation to protect the First Amendment and intellectual diversity on campus. We urge you to insist that state institutions support and foster the robust exchange of ideas and recommend that you call for a full and immediate accounting by the RIC President of the circumstances behind this dismissal."

Read the full letter here.

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