Brainwashing 101

More on indoctrination at the University Of Delaware.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent Patrick Harker, the president of the University, a voluminous set of papers on how their residence life program was run. “Hundreds of pages, without exception, are about how to indoctrinate students,” school of education professor Jan Blits told the campus student paper, the Review. “What’s surprising is how open they are about it.” Blits acquired the papers from the residence life program by simply asking for them. Kathleen Kerr, the director of residential life for the university “was so proud of the program she just handed them over,” he said. Blits, head of the university’s chapter of the National Association of Scholars, and another professor at the school of education, Linda Gottfredson, have been cooperating with FIRE to get the story out. Gottfredson said: “Residential Life has the whole person and they try to change beliefs – the heart and soul of a person – which is exactly what totalitarian institutions do. This is a national issue and FIRE is not finished.”

Kerr is currently chair of the American College Personnel Association’s commission for housing and residential life. ACPA’s site lists 28 residential life officers from colleges and universities across the country, including the University of Texas, Oberlin, the University of Maryland, Rutgers, Brandeis and Michigan State, though it is not clear that these institutions are engaged in any indoctrination. The national group’s ethical code says that “respecting the rights of persons to hold different perspectives” is essential.

The papers laying out the residential curriculum at the University of Delaware have a number of gassy euphemisms for insisting that students accept the ideas being imposed. One is “competency attainment” – in plain English the acceptance by students of ideas they are told to accept. The same insistence is available in clear language as well, often in sentences that begin “Students will.” One example: “Students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.”

At a meeting of the faculty senate, Blits said that programs at public universities structured to impose beliefs are illegal, “even if it were Democratic party principles or Republican party principles.” According to a report in the Review, he told the senate: “Under the civil rights law of 1871, the Ku Klux Klan Act, public university officials are personally liable for punitive damages. That is very, very serious.” Blits said the university is currently “the laughing stock” of the nation.

Among the questions now being debated: why did President Harker merely suspend the program for the rest of the academic year, instead of quashing it entirely? And more basically, why should dormitories have their own curriculum? Possible answer: highly ideological freshman orientation programs are now widespread and meet so little resistance, the temptation to extend the brainwashing to all four years of college may seem irresistible to eager ideologues.
The RAs are forbidden to talk to outsiders about the residential curriculum, though attacking FIRE is apparently allowed. Adam Kissel of FIRE Reported on November 3 that a parent wrote to say that her son “told me that RAs were ‘mandated’ to speak out against FIRE to the media. One refused and was told by residence life staff that he would lose his job and the university would not consider him a student anymore. I asked him if he (the RA) would be expelled and he said that was 100 percent correct.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education blog said several RAs had been asked to speak favorably about the program to the news media. “When I declined I was taken aside and told that my future as an RA was in jeopardy as was my future as a student, ” he said “I decide to stand up for myself.”

In addition to its indoctrination, the residence program has its own speech code. The university’s “residence life escalation procedures” divides emergencies into three levels of seriousness. The A) level, the most dire, includes life-threatening situations, sexual assault or rape, drug busts, serious injury and this: “Any instance that is perceived by those involved as being racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic or otherwise oppressive.” All A) emergencies are to be reported immediately, at any hour of the night or day to the residential life professional on duty (parents are not to be notified). If the “instances” of oppressive behavior are comments or beliefs, the provision is clearly unconstitutional. But then, what goes better with an illegal indoctrination program than an equally illegal speech code?


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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11 thoughts on “Brainwashing 101

  1. UD’s head of residential life, Kathleen Kerr should be fired, as should anyone who supported this grossly unconstitional intrusion into personal conscience. For their incredible record of rooting out such abuses FIRE deserves our financial support as well as moral support.

  2. Imagine the kind of creepy RA who would *WANT* to be in a position of power to ask sexual questions of 18-year-old freshmen in mandatory one-on-one meetings.

  3. The competencies students are supposed to master include: 1) To recognize that systms of opression exist in our society – The residential learning program is an excellent example of this, 2) Will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression – Organize a residential students strike to be able to live off campus (if some dorms must be closed the administration will have a hard time making up the revenue, but they can take credit for all of the energy they save – reducing consumption is another goal of the progrem)

    SAFE Team
    The SAFE (Students Advocating for Freedom and Equality) Team is a group of students and staff who are organized to respond to acts of hate and intolerance that occur on the campus. When an act of intolerance is reported, the SAFE Team will mobilize to go to a location near where the incident
    occurred and inform residents and community members about what happened. Using handouts, posters and discussion, SAFE Team will talk with members of the community and ask them to consider how such acts affect individuals and the community as a whole.
    The SAFE Team is an organization of University community members who are committed to our campus and surrounding community. They elevate awareness and provide education in a timely manner. The goal of the SAFE Team is to reduce acts of intolerance that occur in our community.

  5. So the quote is …”What’s surprising is how open they (The RA’s) are about it.”
    I believe this is referred to as a Mental Disorder and ….specifically…
    Delusional Disorder: Type: Persecution and Sub-Type: Non-Bizarre
    These are people who believe that they have been persecuted at some time in their life and they are going to correct that wrong.
    More specifically this type is called the non-bizarre type and refers to real life situations which could be true, but are not or …are greatly exaggerated.
    This is why you need to know how to make a referral to a physician who specializes in Behavior Medicine.
    I wonder if the University Delaware has a Medical School?
    If so, do you suppose they have anything to do with all of this indoctrination on their campus? Doubtful unless someone makes the referral.
    One does NOT want to become part of the persecution delusions of these people.
    Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition – Text Revision (DSMIV-TR) by the American Psychiatric Association.

  6. Just staggers the mind, doesn’t it?
    The part that just never appears to bother people who put these sorts of programs together is very simple at its base: the First Amendment and free speech is a Constitutional right; the endless quest make sure that people (who fit within certain ethnic/gender parameters) are not offended by speech they do not like, however innocuous or malignant, is merely a preference.
    Equally troubling is that the university would be willing to use brute extortion on RAs to assure that the “proper” story was told to the press. Heads should roll here, from Patrick Harker on down to the people in charge of UD’s residential life program.
    Kudos to FIRE and the responsible press for following this story.

  7. Students are vulnerable.
    Most are barely out of adolescence, they are away from home for the first time, they have little knowledge of their rights, they are disoriented and ignorant and insecure and poor and confused.
    Universities, on the other hand, are smart, wealthy, experienced, and have all of the power, including the power to deprive students of their education – which is to say, their future.
    This makes students ripe for exploition. It is one of the University president’s primary responsibilities to appreciate the situation, and ensure that students are NOT exploited and abused. Any president who fails in this duty should and must be removed immediately.
    It is ironic that these “education” programs are centred on preventing oppression by those in power, since that is precisely what these programs do.

  8. Just mind-boggling. It reminds me of what I’ve read about North Korea (check out The Aquariums Of Pyongyang), minus the cult of personality of course.

  9. Why should dormitories have their own curriculum? It’s because (1) that’s where universities have the most power over students to enforce indoctrination and curb freedoms, and (2) universities have the best chance of keeping punishment off the record.
    University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Donald Downs published the book “Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus” last year. The book has a history of speech codes on campuses, which includes UWS 17.06, the speech code at the University of Wisconsin that was declared unconstitutional by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1991. According to the records that Professor Downs researched, there were no incidents of punishment under the code at the UW-Madison campus. I informed the surprised Professor Downs that that wasn’t true, because I personally had been punished under the code while living in the dorms in 1990. I also knew of other incidents where students were disciplined under the code in the dorms, which wasn’t hard to violate.
    Why was it so easy to enforce and discipline students in the dorms? (1) No claims of academic freedom could be made, but more importantly, (2) the threat of being thrown out of the dorms couldn’t be overcome.
    The university officials who ran the dorms made it clear that being thrown out of the dorms for violating the speech code did not absolve a student of his financial obligation to his academic year lease. Being thrown out of the dorms in October would have created a financial obligation too great to overcome, especially considering the yearly cost of the dorm was twice the cost of the yearly cost of tuition. The threat of having to pay double rent (for an apartment and a dorm room I wasn’t using) was enough to bow down and take my punishment, because the inability to pay double rent would have necessitated dropping out of college.

  10. Comrades,
    Let us be on guard against the right reactionary tendencies. We must raise the red banner of revolutionary conformity against thought criminals and their running dog advocates of independent thought like FIRE!

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