Last fall, University of Delaware President Patrick Harker appeared to pull the plug, once and for all, on a totalitarian-style dorm program for indoctrinating freshmen in the full complement of today’s radical dicta. But in fact, as the Wilmington News-Journal now reports, Harker passed the buck, as university administrators are wont to do in time of controversy, by lobbing the program to the faculty for what has proven to be a feckless “review.”
This “Residence Life,” so-called “citizenship” program would have remained under wraps except for whistle-blowing by indignant students and their parents, as well as groundbreaking efforts by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) to investigate and expose the character of what the university, in its own Orwellian materials, called “the treatment.”
The program’s stated intent was for the approximately 7,000 students in U.D.’s residence halls to espouse, in FIRE’s words, “highly specific university-approved views on politics, race, sexuality, sociology, moral philosophy, and environmentalism.”
Program materials for this ideological reeducation, which have been removed from the U.D. Website, included race/gender/class/sexual orientation “trainer” Shakti Butler’s definition of a racist as “all white people living in the United States” and her edict that “people of color cannot be racists.” An intrusive rating instrument, “Discovery Wheel,” was used to prompt students to admit to their putative racism, and they were instructed that the U.S. is as “an oppressive society” whose “structures of oppression” it is their “duty” to eliminate.
“The treatment” was also mandatory and punitive. Students were required to attend training sessions, group floor meetings, and one-on-one meetings with their Resident Advisers (RAs), who, having been coached in interrogating vulnerable freshmen, plied them with invasive questions. Thereafter students were rated on a scale of “best” to “worst,” according to how they complied with the prescribed campus orthodoxy. For example, students were grilled about when they first discovered their sexual identity. One resistant student who replied, “That is none of your damn business,” was written up as having one of the “wors[t] one-on-one” sessions, and identified by name and room number.
To its shame, the U.D. Faculty Senate could not muster the gumption in its review even to name, much less denounce, these abominations. It registered no outrage at a systemic thought-control process that mocks students’ constitutional right to freedom of conscience and expression — although it did, gingerly, chide the Residence Life staff for “on several occasions … [not] encouraging students to have an open and honest discussion.” The faculty pledged “that no one will be forced to participate, no notes will be taken or ratings applied,” as though these assurances guarantee an end to the verbal and psychological intimidation of students, and to cramming “correct” views down their throats. And, surely disingenuously, the faculty declared that there had been a lack of “clear understanding” of whether the program was voluntary or mandatory.
However, the faculty’s overriding failure, as the News-Journal and others strongly decried, was not to give example to all higher education by terminating the program, simply and irrevocably. Instead, as Faculty Senate President Alan Fox now vaguely notes, the faculty anticipates approving, later in the year, a “new program” with a continued but less narrow focus on diversity and gender. Moreover, the same Gestapo-like Residence Life administrators, who ought to have been summarily fired, will continue to administer it, albeit with annual faculty oversight.
One of Fox’s lamer, not to mention damning, excuses for the U.D. “treatment” is that “Every university has such programs available for students.” Thus he inadvertently raises an important, larger question, the extent of programs such as the one at U.D. on other campuses.
The N.A.S.’s Thomas Wood raises this issue in “How Many Delawares?,” a formidable investigative report on indoctrination in residence life. Wood’s research makes clear that the U.D. case is part of a broader phenomenon, a nationwide, progressivist, socially ruinous “movement” aimed, via behavior-modification techniques, at making “politically and culturally radical positions seem normal to campus life and uncontroversial.” As summarized in the “Editor’s Introduction” to what is perhaps Wood’s most insightful essay on the subject, “The Marriage of Affirmative Action and Transformative Education”:
The ideological force-feeding of undergraduate students that characterized the University of Delaware’s residential life program had numerous components: radical environmentalism, an attempt to stigmatize traditional moral sentiments, foregrounding questions of sexual orientation, efforts to promote deep distrust of American society, promotion of identity politics, and an aggressive focus on racial grievance. As we looked at other colleges and universities, we found this combination of themes to be widespread, but organized in a variety of ways. Residence halls aren’t the only venue. Many campuses have a contingent of administrators whose job seems to be to turn late adolescent social anxieties into radical alienation from American society … .
U.D. President Harker got it right when he decreed — with false promise as it turned out — that the campus’s repressive dorm program had to “be stopped immediately.” Shame on him, and all other university administrators, trustees and professors who cower before despotic campus “change agents” intent on upending American society. Shame on them all for flagrantly violating the public trust.
Dr. Candace de Russy, a nationally recognized writer and lecturer on education and cultural issues, is a regular contributor to National Review Online’s Phi Beta Cons.