Phi Beta Cons

The Missouri State Victory

Following up on Candace’s generous post about ADF’s victory at Missouri State, I think it is important to discuss in detail what the university agreed to do in response to Social Work department’s wrongdoing.  As part of the settlement, the university has agreed to not only purge the plaintiff, Emily Brooker’s, record of all wrongdoing, but also to pay for her graduate education and to pay a dollar amount that will cover her living expenses as a graduate student.  In addition to the settlement terms, the professor most responsible for the incident has been relieved of his administrative duties (he was running the graduate social work program), and the university has launched an investigation of the social work department itself.

Two things stand out about this settlement.  First, the university responded with admirable speed and seriousness to the claims in the complaint.  In large state institutions, it is not surprising that problems exist (especially in ideologically-charged departments like social work), but it is surprising (and impressive) to see an institution take responsibility for those problems quickly and effectively.  University president Michael T. Nietzel deserves an enormous amount of credit for facing the problems head-on and reaching a fair settlement with Emily.  I agree with the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader:  The president’s “earnest and open response to the controversy should be a model for public institutions facing negative publicity over errors made by an employee.”
Second, the case demonstrates that problems with social-work education are not merely theoretical but can dramatically impact real students’ lives.  FIRE has rightly noted that the standards of the Council on Social Work Education actually “require evaluating students on the basis of their beliefs.”    In Emily Brooker’s case, this meant classroom confrontations, farcical “Star Chamber” style hearings, and — ultimately — a federal lawsuit.  Unfortunately, not every student shares Emily’s courage, and not every university president is as responsive (and responsible) as President Nietzel.  How many other Emilys are out there — either unwilling to step forward or knowing — if they do — that the university will fight them every step of the way?


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