Former Social-Work Student Sues Rhode Island School, Alleging Political Indoctrination

December 14, 2008

A former student has sued the Rhode Island College School of Social Work, alleging that he was penalized because he did not advocate “progressive politics,” The Providence Journal reported.

The student, William Felkner, describes himself as a “conservative libertarian” who generally opposes the expansion of government welfare programs, but he says it became clear to him after enrolling in the master’s-degree program, in 2004, that he would have to transform himself into a left-wing ideologue in order to graduate. His grievances include clashes with a professor over assignments and the choice of where he could work as an intern.

The college, however, denies its curriculum has a political bias. The values its courses teach, it says, are drawn from the code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers, and incorporating those standards into the curriculum “can no more be considered political indoctrination than can a medical school’s adherence to the Hippocratic Oath.”

Mr. Felkner left the Rhode Island school last year, after running out of time to submit a final paper that was acceptable to the college. His case is not the first time a student has sued a school of social work on claims of political indoctrination. In 2006, Missouri State University settled a lawsuit with a former social-work student who contended that the institution had retaliated against her for not participating in a class project supporting homosexuals’ adoption of children. —Charles Huckabee