Columbia University: Ideological Litmus Tests at Teachers College

Category: Freedom of Conscience
Schools: Columbia University

Columbia University’s Teachers College requires students to demonstrate a “commitment to social justice” and  employs “dispositions,” which it defines as “observable behaviors that fall within the law and involve the use of certain skills,” to evaluate students. These dispositions, “expected of Teachers College candidates and graduates” and “assessed at each transition point,” include “Respect for Diversity and Commitment to Social Justice.” FIRE criticized these and other requirements in several letters to Columbia University and Teachers College, arguing that evaluating students according to their commitment to an officially defined ideal is a violation of a student’s right to decide for himself or herself what is and is not socially just. Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman told FIRE that the policy would be reevaluated, but there has been no change in this policy.

  • Campus Alert: Think like us–or else

    June 4, 2007

    Columbia University’s Teachers College is one of America’s most prestigious education schools. For many students, it’s probably the best—but not if you don’t buy the school’s definition of “social justice.” Teachers College evaluates students in part on the basis of so-called “dispositions,” defined as “observable behaviors” that “involve the use of certain skills.” One “disposition” is the student’s “Respect for Diversity and Commitment to Social Justice.” This warps the discussion of whether a student might make a good teacher into whether that student has the “correct” personal, religious or political beliefs. Evaluating students’ aptitude for teaching based on their commitment […]

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  • Social justice and political orthodoxy

    March 30, 2007

    Columbia University has had more than its share of free-speech controversies over the last academic year, including a student melee that ended a speech by the founder of the Minuteman Project and a short-lived attempt to punish a sports club for using a rude word. One controversy, however, seems to have left the administration particularly puzzled: Why, they seem to be asking, would anyone object to Columbia Teachers  College’s requirement that students demonstrate their “commitment to social justice?” After all, doesn’t everyone agree that social justice is a good thing? Since at least 2003, Teachers College has maintained a policy […]

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  • Quick Hits: Columbia University ignores objections to thought reform amid free speech controversy

    November 7, 2006

    The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on Teachers College—Columbia University’s graduate school of education—to abandon its ideological litmus tests for students. These policies are manifestly inconsistent with Teachers College’s written promises of free speech and academic freedom as well as with Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s recent statements on the importance of free expression at Columbia University. Teachers College’s Conceptual Framework, which represents the “philosophy for teacher education at Teachers College,” requires students to possess a “commitment to social justice.” Moreover, students are expected to recognize that “social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination […]

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  • Silence From Teachers College

    April 16, 2008

    When Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman told FIRE last May that the school would be taking another look at the language used to describe its evaluative criteria, naturally we took her at her word. After all, we figured that Fuhrman likely became President of what is arguably our nation’s most prestigious education school by keeping the interests of her students front and center. Therefore, it only made sense that she would want to reform Teachers College’s troubling reliance on ideologically charged “dispositions” in assessing student performance after being informed of the problem with doing so. Here’s a quick recap, taken […]

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  • FIRE in ‘The New York Times’ on Free Speech at Columbia

    October 23, 2006

    Columbia University’s recent struggles with free speech were covered in the pages of The New York Times on Sunday, with an article concentrating on questions about Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s commitment to free speech on campus. In the article, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff points out that while Bollinger’s public statements endorse free speech, questions remain as to whether Bollinger can “walk the walk” when it comes to issues of free expression on campus. FIRE is continuing its efforts to ensure that Columbia lives up to Bollinger’s promises of freedom of thought and expression with a follow-up letter sent to the […]

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  • A Columbia expert on free speech is accused of speaking too softly

    October 22, 2006

    Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, is a natural in the classroom, guiding undergraduates through the intricacies of the First Amendment. Here he is, pacing, jacketless, playing the role of a politician who wants to ban pornography: Would it be constitutional, he asks his students? How would he justify the limits on free speech? He presses on, as a politician might, proclaiming, “I really think we should eliminate certain viewpoints from society.” Some students start to laugh. “Why don’t we do that?” he asks. There is probably no university chief in America more steeped in issues of free […]

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  • FIRE Letter to Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman, October 18, 2006

    October 18, 2006

    October 18, 2006 President Lee C. Bollinger Columbia University Office of the President 202 Low Memorial Library 535 West 116th Street New York, New York 10027-6606 President Susan H. Fuhrman Teachers College Office of the President PO Box 163 525 West 120th Street New York, New York 10027-6606 Sent by U.S. Mail and Facsimile (212-854-9973, 212-678-3205) Dear Presidents Bollinger and Fuhrman: FIRE appreciates your response to our letter of September 15, 2006. Our concerns about the ideological litmus test at Teachers College, however, are not allayed; nor will they be until Teachers College’s standards are rewritten in a way that […]

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  • Letting the PC slip show

    October 13, 2006

    You’ve probably never heard of Teachers College, but it has profoundly affected your life and is now affecting your children’s lives. TC is the graduate school of education at Columbia University and laboratory of most of the “reforms” that have corroded K-12 education over the past 50 years. New math, whole language, open classrooms, outcome-based education — you name the fad and it probably originated in Morningside Heights in New York. Teachers College is the most influential graduate education program in the country, and like so many leading schools, it is probably irredeemably PC. Still, Columbia University professes to uphold […]

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  • Merit at Columbia

    October 12, 2006

      Staff Editorial What a juxtaposition — the same week that Columbia University is celebrating merit in the form of the Nobel prize in economics awarded to Professor Edmund “Ned” Phelps, Columbia’s Teachers College is coming under justified criticism for deriding merit, favoring instead a kind of left-wing indoctrination. If that sounds like an overstatement, we invite you to check out the “conceptual framework” for Teachers College that is available for download at the Teachers College Web site. It states, “Social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and […]

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  • University policy draws fire from free-speech advocates

    October 12, 2006

    Columbia University’s Teachers College is being criticized by free-speech advocates, who are charging that the school’s “Conceptual Framework,” the document that shapes curricula and guides instruction and student assessment, amounts to an ideological litmus test. The Conceptual Framework lists a number of “dispositions” essential for future teachers such as a “respect for diversity and commitment to social justice,” according to the school’s Web site. Students’ dispositions are evaluated by faculty members “at multiple decision points.” A spokesman for Teachers College, Joseph Levine, denied that students are graded on their beliefs. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an educational free […]

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  • Columbia University Ignores Objections to Thought Reform Amid Free Speech Controversy

    October 10, 2006

    NEW YORK, October 11, 2006—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is calling on Teachers College—Columbia University’s graduate school of education—to abandon its ideological litmus tests for students. These policies are manifestly inconsistent with Teachers College’s written promises of free speech and academic freedom as well as with Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s recent statements on the importance of free expression at Columbia University. Teachers College’s Conceptual Framework, which represents the “philosophy for teacher education at Teachers College,” requires students to possess a “commitment to social justice.” Moreover, students are expected to recognize that “social inequalities are often produced and […]

    » Read More

  • FIRE Letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger, September 15, 2006

    September 15, 2006

    September 15, 2006 President Lee C. Bollinger Columbia University 535 West 116th Street New York, New York 10027 Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (212-854-9973) Dear President Bollinger: As you probably remember from our past correspondence, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) unites leaders in the fields of civil rights and civil liberties, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, academic freedom, due process, freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses. FIRE is profoundly concerned about the threat to the freedoms of speech and […]

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