FIRE: Those U-Minn teacher-program requisites have our attention

And well they should.  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech activist group that fights political-correctness codes on college campuses, has found plenty of problems with the University of Minnesota’s new requisites for students in its education program.  And in fact, the problem is actually worse than first reported, as FIRE points out:

All signs are that the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is planning to enforce a political litmus test for future teachers. The university’s College of Education and Human Development intends to mandate certain beliefs and values—”dispositions”—for future teachers. Yet that is not enough. It even intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the wrong beliefs and values-those who it judges will not be able to be brought around to the correct beliefs and values of “cultural competence” even after remedial training.

Originally, Katherine Kersten reported that the “cultural competence” requirement would be applied to graduation, not admission.  However, FIRE took a closer look and discovered this:

In an October 28, 2009, proposal to the Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, the college promises that it will revise its curriculum toward the “development of cultural competence.” The college’s full articulation of this vague concept at present is just what the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group has determined it to be.

Not only that, however, the college in its proposal promises to start screening its applicants to make sure they have the proper “commitments” and “dispositions”:

Develop admission procedures to assess professional commitments.

We recognize that both academic preparation and particular dispositions or professional commitments are needed for effective teaching. [Emphasis in original.]

The college promises that it will begin using “predictive criteria” to make sure that future teachers will be able to develop an acceptable level of “cultural competence”-apparently, those who do not pass the political litmus test and seem too set in their beliefs will never get admitted. This is far worse than what Columbia Teachers College does with its own “dispositions” requirement, and far in excess of what the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has ever mandated.

This would hardly be constitutional at a private college — discriminating on the basis of political ideology. It certainly shouldn’t pass muster at a state-run university like the University of Minnesota.  UM apparently wants to choke off dissent at the entry point, and only produce an army of teachers who aren’t allowed to think for themselves or hold viewpoints that diverge from the groupthink.  That should be enough to shame the administrators at UM … but probably won’t.

FIRE says that the university “may well hear from [us] soon.” Actually, they’re hearing from FIRE today.  Adam Kissell sent the following letter to Robert Bruininks, the UM president:

FIRE is deeply concerned about new policies at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities proposed by the College of Education and Human Development. According to documents published by the college (see, it intends to mandate certain beliefs and values-“dispositions”-for future teachers. The college also intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the “wrong” beliefs and values-those who either do not have sufficient “cultural competence” or those who the college judges will not be able to be converted to the “correct” beliefs and values even after remedial re-education. These intentions violate the freedom of conscience of the university’s students. As a public university bound by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the university is both legally and morally obligated to uphold this fundamental right. …

FIRE understands that the college intends to consult with the university’s general counsel regarding its “dispositions assessment” in the summer of 2010. Let us urge you today not to wait until the college wastes valuable resources in taking several more months to plan such an unconstitutional and morally unconscionable set of demands on future teachers.

Indeed, the university’s general counsel should be asked to comment as soon as possible. If the Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group achieves its stated goals, the result will be political and ideological screening of applicants, remedial re-education for those with the “wrong” views and values, and withholding of degrees from those upon whom the university’s political reeducation efforts proved ineffective. While the task group appears to have attempted to take matters of “social justice” to heart, it seems to have persuaded the College of Education and Human Development to adopt requirements that, by any non-totalitarian standard, are severely unjust and impermissibly intrude into matters of individual conscience. As these demands for “cultural competence” stand today, they are a severe affront to liberty and a disservice to the very ideal of a liberating education that appears to be behind the task group’s ideas. It is a shame that the College of Education and Human Development has embraced such an illiberal view of education.

Read the letter in full. We’ll stay abreast of this story as it develops.