October 5, 2005

The "professional disposition evaluation."

From today's Badger Herald:
Just before the start of the fall semester, Edward Swan, a student in the College of Education at Washington State University, was informed he was in jeopardy of being removed from his program.

The college is bound by state law to evaluate the character of each student at graduation. Since 2001, the college has used a system where each semester, faculty members fill out a “professional disposition evaluation” for each student they have in class. The forms ask for marks on, among other things, students’ commitments to such politically charged concepts as “social justice” and “diversity.”

Mr. Swan, a self-professed conservative with strong opinions on the Bible and the role of men and women in a family, failed four of his evaluations.

According to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, one faculty member flunked Mr. Swan for writing “diversity is perversity” on his copy of a textbook, while another claimed that he was a “white supremacist” and that he often sported a camouflage hunting cap and spoke of his love of hunting, both of which alarmed her.

Swan readily admits to being an avid hunter, but rejects the idea that he is a racist.

“I have four biracial children,” he told the Daily News.

The case at Washington State University is only the tip of the iceberg of so-called “dispositions theory.” Colleges and universities across the country have begun changing their admission and evaluation standards to add ideological criteria into the mix. Increasingly, institutions of higher learning are allying themselves with the proponents of social justice, blurring the line between knowledge and belief, education and indoctrination.
Read the whole thing. This is a complicated matter:
[College of Education Dean Judy] Mitchell disputed the idea that Swan's working-class background was one of the elements that led him to fail his PDE evaluations while other more sophisticated or educated conservatives might pass.

"I think our faculty are fair to people of all backgrounds," she said.

Mitchell emphasized the College of Education is trying to find and train teachers for the public schools who will be committed to be as useful as possible to all students in their classrooms, regardless of varied backgrounds and culture.

That goal is a legitimate one, said two WSU faculty members who teach about constitutional law and civil liberties in the political science department.

"There's no right to a state job, like being a public school teacher," said faculty member Cornell Clayton. "It's a benefit, not a privilege.

"The state can impose a character test - and beliefs can be part of that test. But you can't keep people from state jobs because their beliefs may not be what you'd like," Clayton said.

Mitchell Pickerill thinks the language in the PDE forms may be problematic. "The question on the form is written in such a way that it reflects faculty biases," Pickerill said.

Pickerill sees the PDE's language as one expression of the culture of "political correctness" within the university.
(Mitchell Pickerill is the author of the message quoted in the previous post. He sent along the links for this story.)

I don't have a opinion to express about this particular incident -- which seems to depend a lot on disputed facts.



Deena said...

From the article:

"The state can impose a character test - and beliefs can be part of that test. But you can't keep people from state jobs because their beliefs may not be what you'd like," Clayton said.

So, I'm confused here, Mr. Clayton.

You say that you can't keep people from state jobs because you don't like their beliefs. BUT! You say that it's okay to impose a character test, with beliefs being part of the test.

Is it my puny little mind that just doesn't understand? Or is it that you are totally contradicting yourself?

Robert said...

Once things are controlled by a political process, they will become intrinsically political. Education does not have an exemption to this rule.

Another argument for ending the public school system.

Erik Opsal said...

I think that writing "diversity is perversity" is rather disturbing and Swan should be required to go through diversity training. However, there are no legal grounds to remove him.

Also, kudos to linking to the Badger Herald. I go to Madison and only recently discovered this blog. The Daily Cardinal is far superior in my opinion though.

ShadyCharacter said...

Erik writes:
"Swan should be required to go through diversity training."

I agree totally. Wrongthink is not to be tolerated and needs to be purged. Only goodthink should be allowed, especially when it comes to choosing people who will indoctrinate the next generation with goodthink in the public school students.

Retrograde wrongthink like opposition to affirmative action, hunting or any other such obscene inclinations pose such a danger to commongood we have a moral duty to re-educate the cretins found to be engaging in it. Maybe a system of camps can be set up. I hear the North Koreans have just such a system :)

jeff said...

Thank you Shady... that was perfect.

The way that "diversity" is celebrated at modern universities often does reach levels that could honestly be called perversity.

The Vagina Monologues anyone?

The Drill SGT said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Drill SGT said...

I'm not either a lawyer (married to one) nor a professional teacher (though I have taught math in the military and come from a family of teachers).

Several Observations:

1. Isn't the State requirement of "good character" somewhat analogous to the Bar requirement?

2. Even considering that Washington has a fairly liberal legislature, my gut feeling was that the intent here was on character, as in criminal behavior, drug use, child molesters, etc. I doubt that they put in place a law to measure belief in "Social Justice".

3. Methinks the education establishment would not want to try to evaluate or gather info on: "criminal behavior, drug use, child molesters", but loved the idea of putting Guild restrictions on those who didn't match the belief system.

Mark said...

So is he a "white supremacist" as was claimed? Apparently not or we would have heard details other than his camo cap. The instructor making such a claim should either justify it or be sent to diversity training and then fired.

Jasmina said...

Long, long ago, when I was at UW, I had a poster of a man wrapped in barbed wire with the caption: you have not converted a man because you have silenced him. This was a reflection on what communism had done to free speech.

This is bad news. Stifling free speech is not consistent with the 1st Amendment even if the limitations are clothed in the language of "character" or other au courrant PS-criteria.

May be, like in the old Soviet Union, the BS PC censorship will give rise to poetry and literature that tells it like it is in elegant code expressions.

John said...

"Diversity is perversity" calls to mind the following passage from Nabokov's Pnin:

The 1954 Fall Term had begun. Again the marble neck of a homely Venus in the vestibule of Humanities Hall received the vermilion imprint, in applied lipstick, of a mimicked kiss. Again the Waindell Recorder discussed the Parking Problem. Again in the margins of library books earnest freshmen inscribed such helpful glosses as "Description of nature," or "Irony"; and in a pretty edition of Mallarmé's poems an especially able scholiast had already underlined in violet ink the difficult word oiseaux and scrawled above it "birds."

ShadyCharacter said...

mark, it's a known fact that the set of hunters (aka "Wearers of the Camo Hats") and the set of white supremacists are perfectly congruent. If one were to represent the population of hunters and the population of white supremacists as a Venn diagram the circles would overlap exactly.

Interestingly, aside from a small number of ironic hipsters, this holds true for Camo Hat Wearers as well.

SippicanCottage said...
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JSU said...

So, you think he would've been failed if he'd written that "The white race is the cancer of human history"?

Bruce Hayden said...

I am not the expert that our esteemed hostess is here, but I would think that the WSU actions would seriously impact the 1st Amdt (made applicable to the states via the 14th). If this isn't forced speech and a lack of free speech, I don't know what is.

I should note that the difference between this and the character test for law admission is that the latter is now days a lot more objective, for example, have you been convicted of a crime of dishonesty? Saying something like "Diversity is Perversity" just won't keep someone out of the practive of law any more.

ziemer said...


i love "pnin."

its so rare to find someone else who is familiar with it.

erik opsal,

diversity is perversity.

no reasonable person disputes that.

the term "diversity" is just code for "destruction of western civilization." you know that. i know that. don't pretend you don't.

aidan maconachy said...

Cases like this are becoming increasingly prevalent.

Institutions of higher learning have no business imposing speech codes, ideological requirements (stated or otherwise), cultural "make-overs" or any other schemes to implement what really amounts to a form of social engineering.

A clear distinction needs to be drawn between subject matter taught in the school's various departments and the personal views, values and beliefs of a given student.

Unfortunately the liberal "elite" (I use the term somewhat cynically) in such institutions have arrogated authority to themselves in these areas simply by virtue of their position of privelege (in much the way "progressive" judges have been toying with the judicial system). This is really repugnant to anyone who believes that people should be free to make up their own minds on societal issues, rather than be co-opted in any number of ways - going all the way from peer pressure to these types of officially sanctioned evaluations.

You know, I find it supremely ironical that certain people on the left refer to Bush as "a nazi" and raise the Orwellian spook about legislation such as the Patriot Act, when in actual fact Bush and co are like ham fisted amateurs when it comes to the "processes" employed in educational institutions to compel compliance with the prevailing status quo.

The left is viciously pack oriented and discriminatory when it comes to railing on people who don't share their convictions. I had numerous run-ins at University with profs and others, because I refused to buy the party line, and the consequences went all the way from lower grades to cold shouldering. Liberal academics are skilled operators when it comes to this sort of thing.

I mean take the debate about gay marriage. It has really only been an issue in the last couple of decades ... if that. This nouveau marriage concept follows upon millennia of traditional observance; traditional observance embraced by people of all races, faiths and cultures. But suddenly gay marriage is the new hot button issue, and the idea of not going along with the idea is seen by some liberal academic types as a form of lunacy, or possibly an indication of "the bigot within".

This is completely unreal and unreasonable. Why should a person with tradtional beliefs be branded as a pariah because he/she doesn't suddenly think gay marriage is fine and dandy. Why should someone in their fifties, raised with an "old fashioned" world view on these matters, all of a sudden be expected to be cool with this? It almost amounts to a form of cultural fascism, because there are very real consequences for not towing the liberal line.

To my way of thinking a culture that exercises these psychological coercions and professional penalties, is a lot more sinister and "Orwellian" than the rather inept efforts of the Bush people to rally the country to the flag under the guise of "security concerns" - real or not.

This gay marriage issue, along with others, form the central articles of faith of the new secularism, and digression may be tolerated ... but it will be noticed, and very likely held against you.

These institutions are increasingly reminding me of Kafka ... not in any trite, caricatured way ... but in terms of the psychological conditions experienced by K in "The Trial". The suspect who walks alone and becomes a subject of some ill-defined investigation almost by default, even though nobody explicitly says what his actual crime amounts to. He is up against departments, bureaucracy, speech codes, layers of institutional meaning that continually perplex and frustrate. He has been sentenced, but he doesn't know for what and he lives his days as a marked man.

A paranoid fantasy? Maybe not. Some of the stories I have been hearing lately would have made Franz smile.

aidan maconachy said...

I don't want to get e'mails from certain parties - so I'd better add a footnote.

I am not a social conservative myself in a narrow or biblical way at all, but I stand for the rights of those who are. If my right wing stance amounts to anything, it's my wish to defend the right of the individual to believe and do as he/she wills, notwithstanding prevailing secularist dogmas.

Gina said...

aidan maconachy , I guess its a crime to be a traditionalist , I shudder to think where this world will be in a few hundred yrs ..

Bruce Hayden said...

Note that there are really two standards here. State schools face a much stricter standard than do private schools, due to the applicability of the 1st Amdt. to their actions. In other words, the 1st Amdt. does apply to state schools (and state teacher licensing) but not to private schools.

Kathy Herrmann said...

I don't find Edward Swan to be that disturbing but do find comments like ShadyCharacter's to be so, like this one...

Wrongthink is not to be tolerated and needs to be purged...Retrograde wrongthink like opposition to affirmative action, hunting or any other such obscene inclinations pose such a danger to commongood we have a moral duty to re-educate the cretins found to be engaging in it.

Guess that I need to go to Shady's re-education camp as my beliefs have become mixed on affirmative action (not against it yet but not quite so for it either) and I've no opposition to hunting if the catch is used for food. But then I also eat animal protein in my diet.

Additionally, I like to see Shady's data on this statement...

If one were to represent the population of hunters and the population of white supremacists as a Venn diagram the circles would overlap exactly.

And what about this excerpt on camo hats...

From http://wearablesbusiness.com/mag/apparel_thinking_caps_2/

It's a safe bet to predict that 2004 will see more camouflage cap sales than any other year. Headwear suppliers are certainly ready for camo cap sales to grow, as many have bolstered their lines and now offer more than a dozen different styles with camouflage patterns.

...popular with hunters, camo pattern caps [and shirts] are being logoed and worn everyday as fashion or outdoor lifestyle statements by hunters and anglers - and also by cowboys and even stock car racing enthusiasts.

Or are all cowboys and race enthusiasts supremists too?

Kathy Herrmann said...

I'm personally of the opinion that no teacher should be bringing his or her personal political views into the classroom.

That is, I'm of the inclination that school is where you learn reading, writing, and 'rithmetic and classes like history and social studies is where you learn about other cultures -- but not where the child is indoctrinated into a specific philosophical belief system.

I'd go a step farther and say that I believe within the classroom, teachers should be apolitical.

Additionally, I'm also in sync with other commenters who noted problems with fuzzy character tests.

As for Swan's "Diversity is perversity" comment, I can think of numerous possible ways to interpret the phrase. If that's the sole criteria for evaluation, then it's weak. Given the variability of interpretation, how can this be used as a failing criteria?

In reading the article, I see numerous places where Swan and my beliefs would likely diverge. One example is allowing/disallowing gays to adopt. If a gay candidate is suitable (as per the same criteria you would use to evaluate a straight person) then I'm all for it). Additionally, I think we'd also have different views on the Bible.

All that said, though, on the face of the article content, I don't see enough to disallow Swan from teaching.

The more important question to me is...Can the man teach?

yetanotherjohn said...

I think it would be interesting to see if Mr. Clayton would feel that state can impose a character test and beliefs can be part of that test if it was applied to him with students doing the application. I suspect that tenured professors would be screaming bloody murder if they could lose their jobs because enough students (perhaps not even a majority) felt they were not culturally sensitive enough.

ShadyCharacter said...

Kathy, I may have misread your posts taking issue with what I have written. It may be that you are operating on a super-deep level of sarcasm, in that you are pretending to have missed the clear sarcasm of my posts. Either that or you must be a real genius (/sarcasm/ - just in case, I'll clarify that I'm writing "genius" but I mean "idiot"). Was the reference to North Korea not enough of a giveaway?

Again, however, in responding this way, I'm afraid that I may simply be missing your deeply subtle sarcasm, in which case I'd be very embarrased and have to apologize. I'm afraid I'm not equipped to cope with Sarcasm turned up to 11 :)

ShadyCharacter said...

Aargh! Kathy! I just re-read all the relevant posts (mine and yours) and realized that no one could possibly have thought my two comments were serious. I mean that guy from Rain Man would have caught on! Therefore I must apologize. I am in the presence of a master whose sarcasm is as subtle as it is sublime!

The Drill SGT said...

Bruce Hayden said...

"I should note that the difference between this and the character test for law admission is that the latter is now days a lot more objective..."


I assume you were responding to my post. I think we are in violent agreement. My point was that I think the legislative intent was an objective good character test. what they got was a very subjective biased implementation.

Scotty said...

I interviewed Ed on my radio show. I also talked with David French who is Ed's representative from FIRE. Ed is a soft spoken guy and nothing would seem outwardly to be worried about him.

I was a WSU college of Education student in the early 90's. I also ran into trouble due to my political beliefs. I was calling into a meeting with the head of the department because they feared that I was not sensitive enough. They did not have the disposition reports when I was there, but it would be interesting to see what they would say about me.

I have the audio from the interview with Ed online if anyone would like to listen to it. I don't have it on my website yet, but e-mail me and I will send you a link for it. coug1973@gmail.com