Christine Mize is looking for a job. The 46-year-old former police officer in June graduated from Southern Illinois University (SIU) with a master's degree in social work. In August, she landed an interview at Head Start, a federal preschool program.
But after the interview, a thought struck Mize: "Gosh, I hope they don't Google me."
Indeed, a Google search would be revealing: Mize is one of several social work students who in recent years have taken a stand for free speech in an academic discipline that seems to discourage it.
A year ago, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) published a detailed study called "The Scandal of Social Work Education." The study revealed that many schools of social work at public universities across the country have jettisoned free academic inquiry and broad-based methods of delivering compassion in favor of a rigid orthodoxy rooted in Marxism and feminism. Further, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the sole accrediting institution in 48 states, disseminates that orthodoxy through officially published standards-and professors enforce it in the classroom.
In Mize's case, an SIU social work professor in 2006 refused to allow Mize to develop a faith-based support group for post-abortive women. She could establish a group, the professor said, "but if you incorporate your faith, you'll be graded down."
And she was: At first the professor refused to grade Mize's project. But after a protracted battle with school officials during which Mize called in the services of the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, Mize received a B for the project-the only B on her transcript.
Former Rhode Island College social work student Bill Felkner filed a federal suit last year after a social work professor failed him on a position paper that would have lobbied the state legislature in favor of a certain welfare program. Felkner refused to lobby in favor of the program because his research had shown it ineffective, so he took the opposite view in his paper. Felkner's suit claims the professor retaliated by lowering his grades, denying him professional development opportunities and filing ethics charges against him.
This July, attorneys for the college sought to have the case dismissed based on this essential argument: Since the school of social work requires adherence to a certain view of how to help the disadvantaged, the professor was within his rights to fail Felkner.
The defense's circular argument skated past Felkner's-and NAS'-foundational point: that debatable theories of social work should be just that-debatable. But CSWE's official standards have elevated theory to the level of proven science. For example, CSWE Educational Policy 2.1.5 could be transplanted to a Marxist pamphlet: "Social workers recognize the global interconnections of oppression. . . . Social work incorporates social justice practices . . . to ensure that these basic human rights are distributed equitably."
David Stoesz, a professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, said part of the problem is that "CSWE has elevated identity politics above scholarship as a basis for selecting leaders in social work education, inverting the values of professional education within the university."
To back that claim, Stoesz offers an empirical metric: the Social Sciences Citation Index, a compilation of about 8,700 scientific and "high-impact" journals worldwide that is widely considered a valid measure of scholarship by university promotion and tenure committees. Stoesz says six articles in Index journals would be a common benchmark for university promotion/tenure committees. "Members of the CSWE board averaged 2.31 refereed articles during their entire careers," Stoesz wrote in the journal Academic Questions (Spring 2008). "Twenty percent had not published a single article recorded by SSCI, and 32 percent had published only one."
Still, CSWE's near-monopoly as an accrediting institution allows "inferior academics to elect their peers-other inferior academics-by criteria that are not achieved but ascribed," such as race, ethnicity, disability, or the practice of homosexuality.
The National Academy of Scholars is challenging the CSWE monopoly. The group sent letters to social work licensing boards in all 50 states objecting to the CSWE's using state institutions to coerce students into adopting a certain worldview. The Academy received only six replies, but is planning a follow-up campaign.
Meanwhile, Christine Mize's job search continues, and she still gets calls from reporters, attorneys, and policy groups. "I didn't want this kind of attention," she said. "I just have a real sense of right and wrong, and what happened to me at SIU was wrong."