RIC v Felkner: A New Voice
We have written of the educational travesty being committed against Bill Felkner by the Rhode Island College School of Social Work before. Now, similarly outraged, Brian Bishop of The Foundation for Intellectual Diversity at Brown University has produced a well-reasoned explanation as to why so many of us find the actions of those who run RIC’s School of Social Work intellectually wrongheaded and discriminatory.
The extent to which various paradigms of benefit provision lead toward independence is the fundamental measure of welfare’s effectiveness, according to both social workers and “wascally Wepublicans.” As would be expected, the greatest debate in substantive welfare reform is how to characterize the results of different approaches.
In Rhode Island, such debate is expected to take place at the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. But recent public scrutiny indicates that the school views itself as an advocate for a single outlook, rather than as an academic institution considering, with openness, the merits of diverse methods.
The School of Social Work — joined at the hip to RIC’s Poverty Institute — operates on the premise that government benefits confer personal dignity, especially as opposed to dogged self-reliance or private charity.
The school’s charter appears to suggest that it is a failing of the rest of society that folks lie in mean estate, and thus the responsibility of society to provide for them in a nonjudgmental way. It teaches that a panoply of benefits are virtual rights for potential recipients. If any of the assistance available under the ironic rubric of promoting family “independence” is not used, the program is condemned as inflexible.
Thus, the latest marching orders for School of Social Work students is to lobby, as part of a required course, for extending educational benefits to those on welfare beyond the first two years of eligibility. The reasoning behind extending benefits is that a new mother either has little choice about spending these early years with her child or might prefer to do so.
Bishop explained Felkner’s case and contrasted the attitude of the RIC SSW with the students at Brown University who “recognized what their faculty did not: that a refusal to permit certain ideas to be expressed based on presupposition about their merits is an embarrassment to the tradition of liberal education.” While I’m heartened to see such “activism” by Brown’s students, I’m not surprised that there seems to be little faculty support. (Though the fact that Bishop’s foundation is at Brown is cause for hope). Nonetheless, Bishop properly asked the Rhode Island government to put the heat on the state funded schools to insist on academic diversity.
It is not the business of the state to tell private institutions what constitutes a proper academic environment, but these are state institutions. Thus, it is not only proper but paramount for the legislature to adopt a similar academic bill of rights for the state’s university and its colleges, as these schools seem disinclined to confront their failings on their own.
We shall see.
ADDENDUM: A “source” tells us that, thanks in large part to the efforts of Brian Bishop, RI State Senator Kevin Breene will be submitting a bill that will allow the RI Board of Governors for Higher Education to implement an Academic Bill of Rights. Presumably, this will be applicable to all of the schools under the purview of the board: URI, RIC, and CCRI. When the bill becomes available online, we will post it here.