Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fundamentally Inconsistent With Whose Values?

In this post I'm going to explain some strange connections among various conservative views of the university, and especially views of social work education.

Back in November of 2007 I heard about a new think tank being formed at our sister campus (University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign). This is the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund. Odd that "fund" was part of its name, but go to the website and see for yourself what this center does.

Now, I received both my master's degree and my doctorate at Washington University, and I remember there were certain institutes or research centers there where conservative ideologies were strongly supported. There were a variety of think-tanks or centers such as the International Society for New Institutional Economics, the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the Center for the Study of American Business (now named after Weidenbaum, a great scholar, rather than some wealthy benefactor), and various other places on campus where scholars were researching the free enterprise system. I remember conservative intellectuals like professor Murray Weidenbaum were very available to give talks or meet with students, and there were some fun, friendly debates between social work faculty and people from the Olin Business School or the Economics Department. I'd sometimes use papers, or at least read them, that I could pick up in the various conservative centers, and for the most part the materials were straight-forward scholarship pieces. So, I was surprised to hear that the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government was going to fund studies that set out to prove certain ideological propositions.

Specifically, the Academy was going to fund research into areas such as:

1) The relationship between economic growth and reduced government size.

2) Free market capitalism can become more effective in providing opportunities and prosperity for individual nations.

3) Why communism, socialism, government bureaucracy have failed to bring prosperity, and how capitalism brings material wealth to a broad spectrum of society.

These are all interesting questions, and as propositions they could lead to some very fruitful studies and discussions.

Anent the first point, there are limits to how large the public sector of an economy may be before the economy starts to slow down. At some point, perhaps when taxing and spending approach 50% or 60% of GNP, there tends to be slow-downs in economic growth and wealth creation. Certainly a society in which 80% of economic activity was cycled through public revenue collection and spending would be less economically dynamic than one in which 40% of the economy was in the public sector. On the other hand, a society in which too little of the economy was cycled through the public sector would also have problems. If the public, through public sector taxing and spending, has fewer than 20%, or even 30% of the economy under its control, public goods are likely to be neglected, and the overall public welfare is likely to decline steeply, especially during downturns in business cycles. Studies to find out approximately where the upper and lower bounds of public sector spending are for efficient national economies would be welcome, but where is the intellectual honesty in funding research that only seeks to prove that smaller public sectors enhance economic growth?

The second point seems uncontroversial. Any studies to determine how any technology or system (e.g., free market capitalism) can do a better job of meeting human needs should be encouraged. In what circumstances and under what rules does the free market capitalist system do the best job of satisfying human needs? We might look to the capitalism practiced in Scandinavia for an answer.

The third point is the most controversial. Government bureaucracy and socialism are more about controlling and sharing prosperity, rather than creating it, so I’m not sure I see the point of researching how it’s fair to say they have “failed” to bring prosperity. Actually, I think socialism and bureaucracy have done good job of sharing and stabilizing the prosperity brought by free markets in some situations (Kerela in India, Scandinavia, Western Europe, the United States). Government programs and socialistic policies sometimes do create prosperity. Not often, but often enough to make them viable choices in certain circumstances. I'm thinking here of the G.I. bill, the construction of interstate highways, the Tennessee Valley Authority, many of the New Deal programs of the American government of the 1930s, and so forth. I think our Social Security policies are fairly socialistic, and certainly they are based on government bureaucracy, but they do a fine job of keeping most elderly in America out of poverty and in relatively prosperous circumstances. Certainly this is better (in terms of prosperity) than the system of county poor farms and poor houses we had before Social Security was introduced.

Anyway, I wanted to learn more about the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund, so at their website I looked at the Board of the Directors and Advisory Council. I noticed Anne D. Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, listed on the advisory council. Anne Neal has her name on the rather curious screed called, "How Many Ward Churchills?" In it, she accuses professors of asking their students to think critically about the status quo, and seems horrified that universities tend to urge their students to find problems with the status quo and think of how reforms or changes might improve things. I've taught community organizing, and my courses often have sections on diversity, so I was surprised to see in this report the accusation that,“In classroom after classroom, on campus after campus, courses too often look more like lessons in political advocacy and sensitivity training than objective and balanced presentations of scholarly research.” I had no idea so many of my colleagues were teaching advocacy and organizing skills. Certainly my students have not been demonstrating this. Actually, in my courses I have my students cover the scholarly research on political advocacy and sensitivity training. Surely there is no point in teaching political advocacy skills and techniques unless you can document through empirical studies that what you suggest your students do is likely to effect the results they want.

The person who is listed first of the Board of Directors of the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund is Stephen H. Balch. He is the president of the National Association of Scholars. During the fall semester (of 2007), the home page of the National Association of Scholars had this interesting article, right on the first page of their website:

Collateral Damage in Social Work’s March Toward Ideological Purity

The release of NAS’s report, The Scandal of Social Work Education, has prompted follow-up reporting in the press and some reflection by a former student.

George Will devoted his 14 October 2007 column to the report, noting that, “In the month since the NAS released its study, none of the schools covered by it has contested its findings.”

Bruce Rushton, a reporter for The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Illinois) followed up on a local angle. The NAS report cites what happened to Sandra Fuiten, who dropped out of the social work program at the University of Illinois at Springfield when required by a professor to lobby state legislators on behalf of causes to which she had moral objections. One professor told her that it was impossible for her to be both a social worker and an opponent of abortion. Rushton picked up the story from Will and tracked down Sandra Fuiten, who stood by her account. As Rushton explains, Fuiten is now deep in debt, ill, and living on disability.

You can follow a link from this article to George Will's opinion piece. In it, he writes:

The NAS study also reports that Sandra Fuiten abandoned her pursuit of a social work degree at the University of Illinois, Springfield, after the professor, in a course that required students to lobby the Legislature on behalf of positions prescribed by the professor, told her that it is impossible to be both a social worker and an opponent of abortion.

I was also able to find Brush Rushton's article at the Gatehouse News Service, where he writes:

In the article, Fuiten wrote that she dropped out of UIS in 2001 after a professor told her that she could not be a social worker and also oppose abortion.

The professor could not be reached for comment.

Fuiten said Friday she remembers the conversation distinctly.

“Somehow the topic of abortion got brought up,” Fuiten said. “She looked me in the eye and said ‘You can’t be a social worker.’ I said ‘Why?’ ‘Because you’re against abortion.’

“’I said ‘Have you ever heard of Catholic Charities, lady?’”

Fuiten said she dropped the class rather than lobby the legislature on behalf of the National Association of Social Workers, a target of NAS. The professor is a member of the organization.

“I was not going to lobby for her,” Fuiten said. “It (made me so mad) I dropped my other classes. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be done with my social-work degree.”


I cannot discuss Fuiten's case. She is protected by laws that forbid her professors from discussing her performance at our university, and I was never even her professor, and I’ve never met her. But, I am close friends with her professor. This is the same professor who allegedly told Sandra, “you can't be a social worker. . . because you're against abortion.” This is the same professor who allegedly forced her students to lobby on behalf of the National Association of Social Workers as a class project.

Fuiten demonstrates something of her communication style and approach to life in her writings, posted on the web. She called my friend, her professor, Sandra Mills, "a melay-mouthed LIAR" (I think she meant “mealy-mouthed”) on a blog that has since been taking down. She spells "mealy-mouthed" correctly at the comments section of the Indianapolis Star where Fuiten describes the UIS as "liberalistic pigs who think they can run off their mouths. . . " She wrote a brief article about her experience for campus report online as well.

Well, I don't know what Sandy Mills told Sandra Fuiten back in 2001. I know some things about Sandy Mills, however, that make me wonder how accurate Sandra Fuiten's memories of the events are. Sandy Mills grew up Catholic, worked for Catholic Charities, and adopted her son through a Catholic adoption agency in Milwaukee. She was for a time associated with the Baha'i Faith (as I am), and is now most at home in the Unitarian community here in Springfield. The open-minded and tolerant teachings of Sandy's Baha'i and Unitarian background make me wonder if she is capable of so bluntly forcing students to do assignments that violate their conscience or values. Her background in the Catholic Church also make me wonder how militantly she could support abortion rights. Would she encourage a student to leave the profession because of that student's beliefs about abortion? It seems implausible to me. Sandy routinely places students at Catholic Charities here in Illinois.

George Will, the National Association of Scholars, and various persons associated with the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund have voiced their opposition to the sort of “indoctrination” we use in social work education (I teach some social work courses, and I consider myself a social work educator and researcher). I wonder if they really understand the social work code of ethics.

I can well imagine what Sandy Mills, or any social work educator, might say to a student that could be misinterpreted by the student as meaning, "if you believe that, you can't be a social worker."

The social work code of ethics tells us that, “Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers promote clients’ socially responsible self-determination. Social workers seek to enhance clients’ capacity and opportunity to change and to address their own needs.” The section of the ethics statement that deals with social workers’ ethical responsibilities to clients, in the “self-determination” sub-section, says, “Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Social workers may limit clients’ right to self-determination when, in the social workers’ professional judgment, clients’ actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.” In practice, what this means is that social workers must not impose their values or culture on their clients. So, if you oppose abortion, and your client wants an abortion, you’re not supposed to bring up your personal values and try to prevent your client from acting on their values. Certainly it would be good practice to ask a client questions to make certain they understand their own values and have made a conscious choice based on their ethical views, but the aim of this must be to help the client clarify their goals, not as an attempt for the social worker to introduce their values or goals as worthy of the client's consideration.

So, social work educators often tell their students that social workers must not impose their values on their clients. I can well imagine a social work educator telling a student, “if you feel everyone must think as you do, and you feel so strongly that homosexuality is wrong, or abortion is wrong, that you would interfere with your clients to try to make them change their values or decisions to reflect your ethics rather than living according to their own ethics, then you should consider pastoral counseling as your field, rather than social work. In social work, we value the self-determination of our clients, and we don't try to persuade clients to live according to the values that we personally hold.” That would be a fair thing to say. Of course there are some values that social workers will impose on clients. We think it’s wrong to discipline children by striking them with objects to such a degree that marks such as bruises or scars are left, or bones are broken. When we have clients who believe in this sort of discipline, we don’t respect that difference. We also don’t respect client values if the clients believe in the necessity of conducting human sacrifice, or practicing incest, or subjecting ethnic or racial minorities to violent oppression. For some social workers, the fact that clients might choose a homosexual identity or have abortions may be in the same level of ethical wrongness as the examples I’ve given above, of murderous, incestuous, or physically abusive behaviors. For social workers who feel that strongly about these things, it’s worth asking them to consider whether social work is really right for them. Can they still respect client autonomy and self-determination? Can they avoid a particular sort of client?

I personally think it’s okay for a social worker to have one certain type of client they won't work with. Many social workers don’t want to work with wife-beaters, or incest perpetrators. Some want to avoid any clients with borderline personality disorder diagnoses, or anti-social personality diagnoses. I see nothing wrong with a social worker saying that the one sort of client they won’t work with is the homosexual client. In my view, such a person can still be a good social worker. But, other social work faculty disagree with me, and a student would find diverse opinions about this in most schools of social work. It’s a point worth discussing. Would it be okay for a social worker to only work with Christian clients? Only work with African-American clients, European-American clients? Why or why not? Asking questions like this in a social work classroom is hardly indoctrination, is it?

This key value of client autonomy ought to be one that political conservatives such as George Will would appreciate. I think conservatives should laud my friend Sandy Mills for telling her students that they must not impose their values on their clients. Social workers are often working for the government (usually the state government), and as authority figures representing the public, I think conservatives would agree that we don't want them telling clients what is right and wrong based upon their personal religious beliefs.

The most controversial part of social work education and the socal work code of ethics is probably section six, where we have our social and political action statement (section six, sub-section 04). I find the language to be unobjectionable and compatible with most mainstream views of politics. Persons with radical politics would probably feel more comfortable with this section of the code of ethics than those with radically conservative or libertarian views. In fact, in paragraph (d) one could interpret the code of ethics to be opposed to the idea of affirmative action. Here is the code, copied from the NASW website. See what you think:

6.04 Social and Political Action

(a) Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully. Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.

(b) Social workers should act to expand choice and opportunity for all people, with special regard for vulnerable, disadvantaged, oppressed, and exploited people and groups.

(c) Social workers should promote conditions that encourage respect for cultural and social diversity within the United States and globally. Social workers should promote policies and practices that demonstrate respect for difference, support the expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, advocate for programs and institutions that demonstrate cultural competence, and promote policies that safeguard the rights of and confirm equity and social justice for all people.

(d) Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, or mental or physical disability.

1 comment:

SJM said...

Eric, thank you or so eloquently presenting the social work code and the possible misinterpretations that my former, short term (it appears that Sandra must have only attended 1 or 2 of my classes), social work student must have made. I was unable to respond to the SJR story because I was attending an NASW conference in Chicago at the time. Your explanations of what may have happened are probably accurate. Sandra clearly mistated me, as I would NEVER tell someone that they could not be a social worker if they didn't lobby in favor of abortion. In fact, although I and NASW are pro-choice, this has not been an issue we lobby on. Students in my class at UIS are asked to pick an issue from among the many positions papers in "Social Work Speaks" to report on to the class. The issues are presented in alphabetical order, with Abortion being the first policy paper. Perhaps this is what set Sandra off. However, for the NAS and George Will to proceed with accusations against me and social work education with no fact checking is appauling!