Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Mandatory" "Treatment" of University of Delaware Students

This case is already all over the web [starting here], but it has an unusual health care slant which has heretofore not been covered, so....

The University of Delaware, a large, state-supported US university, which includes a College of Health Sciences, recently instituted a new "treatment"program for university students, described in the draft of a detailed report. [Following page references are from that report.] (References to the program, also described as a curriculum, as a "treatment" are on page 8, 10, and 14) Subjects will be exposed to educational and behavioral interventions, the latter described in one document as that which will "leave a mental footprint on their consciousness." An example of one behavioral intervention requires subjects to line up, then step forward or backward in response to questions about their social identities [see p. 2 of this letter.]. The program will be subject to "action research" [p. 3], which "is generally distinguished by being practioner based, focused on actual existing practices, and using data to improve existing practices," [p. 4] and possibly also "summative, research style studies" [p. 3] Outcomes to be assessed include "behavioral changes in reaction to ... educational strategies." [p. 5] Data collection methods include "surveys, formal inteviews, focus group[s]" [p. 11] Subjects with the worst outcomes in particular groups would be individually identified, and subject to additional interventions [see p. 3 of this letter.] The investigators claimed the research "would qualify for an exemption from full [institutional review] board review." [p. 12]

So far, this sounds unremarkable, but, just has been extensively reported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the subjects of this "treatment" program are all students living in all University of Delaware dormitories, not patients with any defined conditions or diseases. Furthermore, as the FIRE case file makes very clear, participation is mandatory. Not only is consent not required for participation, students must participate in the "treatment" and in the associated "action research" study whether or not they want to.

As FIRE noted in a letter to university president, there are a set of objections to all this based on the content of the intervention, which seems to designed to inculcate political beliefs, rather than to educate, and which requires students to affirm beliefs they may not actually hold. For a government institution to expose students to what seems to be mandatory political indoctrination, and to require students to express beliefs which are not theirs raise major constitutional issues.

Setting those aside, this program seems to profoundly violate some fundamental values of health care and of human research. Except in very particular cases of incompetent patients or patients who are at immediate risk of harming themselves and others, no one should be subject to a treatment without his or her consent. In such a situation, compelling subjects to participate in associated research is equally unethical.

Some may argue that the university's description of this project as "treatment" was metaphor or rhetorical excess. However, the repeated use of that term, plus description of the project in behavioral terms, and the clear human research component invite viewing the project as a treatment intervention and associated human research plan.

For an American state university to have gone so far in a plan for mandatory behavioral "treatment" of students without their consent is chilling. It is a reminder that something has clearly gone very wrong in health care and academia, and that the problems are clearly not at all limited to the for-profit corporate sector.

ADDENDUM (3 November, 2007) - the University of Delaware has cancelled its mandatory "treatment" program, as covered by FIRE.


InformaticsMD said...

Some excerpts from this "treatment program" are in order for those who do not click the links, to demonstrate the depths of totalitarianism this university has descended into.

Unbelievable. Who hired the people who came up with this "program", was it vetted by general counsel at the University, and were Board members aware?

Another question: has actual harm occurred to students as a result of this program?


From's Oct. 29, 2007 letter to Patrick T. Harker, President, University of Delaware :

The approximately 7,000 students living in the university’s eight housing complexes (in which most freshmen, those not living with family nearby, are required by the university to live) are required [1] to attend training sessions, floor meetings, and one-on-one meetings with their RAs. At these training sessions, such as the mandatory diversity training session attended by students from the Rodney complex, students are introduced to the views the university believes they must hold on a wide range of issues such as internalized and institutionalized racism, diversity, environmentalism, and social justice. The diversity training provided to RAs—who then facilitate diversity training sessions for students—provides insight into some of the specific beliefs the university wishes to impose on its students. For example, RAs attended an August 2007 “diversity facilitation training” session at which they received a list of “definitions and descriptions of racism.” Those definitions included: “A RACIST: A racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality ”; “REVERSE RACISM: A term created and used by white people to deny their white privilege”; and “A NON-RACIST: A non term. The term was created by whites to deny responsibility for systemic racism ….” (Emphases added by

At floor meetings, which are also often mandatory, [2] students are required to participate in various intrusive activities designed to further inculcate them with the university’s approved ideology. In one exercise, students are made to line up and are asked questions about their social identities. Based on their answers, they have to step forward or backward. In another exercise, students “walk in the shoes” of someone from another group, and they are later asked to reflect with their RAs on the stereotypes they hold.

At one-on-one meetings, students discuss these issues in greater depth with their RAs. At the Central complex, for instance, RAs follow a “pre-established lesson plan.” RAs write up their “best” and “worst” one-on-one sessions and deliver these reports to their superiors. These write-ups make absolutely clear that students are expected to adopt the university’s ideology; if they do not, students risk being identified by their RAs as the “worst” students in the residence life education program. One student identified by a Russell complex RA as having the “worst” one-on-one session was a young woman who stated that she was tired of having “diversity shoved down her throat” and who responded to the question “When did you discover your sexual identity?” by stating “That is none of your damn business.” Another student identified as having an RA’s “worst” one-on-one stated that she did not understand why the university “force[s] all this diversity stuff” on its students.

At various points in the program, students are also pressured or even required to take actions that outwardly indicate their agreement with the university’s ideology, regardless of their personal beliefs. In the Dickinson complex, for example, students are told to display on their room doors a door decoration representing the interlocking circles of the “triple bottom line” of sustainability, which the university defines as “the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social equity.” At one-on-one meetings with their RAs, Dickinson students are also asked to commit to reducing their ecological footprint by at least 20% before their next one-on-one meetings. In the Russell complex, students must participate in a “cultural plunge,” which is defined as “an experience that forces the student to leave his/her comfort zone and surround him/herself with people of which [sic] s/he has never interacted on a personal level before.” (Emphasis added). At various points throughout the year, Russell students are also required to advocate for a social group that is oppressed as well as for a “sustainable world.”

In the Office of Residence Life’s internal materials, these programs are described using the harrowing language of ideological reeducation. For example, the “assessment plan” for the Gilbert/Harrington complex curriculum states that “through the Gilbert/Harrington curriculum experience (a treatment) specific attitudinal or behavioral changes (learning) will occur.” The Russell complex curriculum’s assessment plan similarly asks: “What is [students’] attitude and/or values about those specific social identities after the treatment?” The fact that the university views its students as patients in need of “treatment” for their incorrect attitudes reveals the university’s utter lack of respect both for its students and for the fundamental right to freedom of conscience. And the university’s definition of learning not as a process of acquiring knowledge or technical skill, but rather as the attainment of specific attitudinal or behavioral changes , represents a distorted idea of “education” that one would more easily associate with a Soviet prison camp than with an American institution of higher education. As another example, after an investigation showed that males demonstrated “a higher degree of resistance to educational efforts,” the Rodney complex chose to hire “strong male RAs.” Each such RA “combats male residents’ concepts of traditional male identity,” in order to “ensure the delivery of the curriculum at the same level as in the female floors.” This language is disturbingly reminiscent of a pivotal scene from George Orwell’s 1984 , in which the protagonist’s captors tell him that “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.”

The curriculum is assessed in many ways to determine whether student beliefs, values, and attitudes have changed. In the Ray Street complex, students keep a portfolio that includes worksheets designed by the complex coordinator to measure student contributions to the community. Students there also develop a co-curricular transcript. Such individual files are kept on each student and then archived. Participation at activities is monitored, and freshmen who are not participating are asked to participate in focus groups to determine why. In the Russell complex, students are surveyed to determine whether they would be comfortable being close friends with or dating people of different races, sexes, and sexual preferences and are asked how comfortable they are with their own various “identities.” Progress is apparently determined by examining whether there is an increasing proportion of “right” answers over time.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe this concept is limited to this university. A couple of years ago a friend’s 21 year old daughter was taking her mandatory physical when the doctor was quite shocked that she was still a virgin.

The doctor became quite agitated. Informed her she was missing out on a big part of her life. Insisted she start birth control pills. He further told her she needed to have multiple sexual partners along with a lesbian experience, since this is what college is all about.

Another friend, was again looking at a state supported school, and was shocked when the stated purpose of the dorm assignments was to put students in uncomfortable living situations. They would pair this small town, religious person, with what they hoped, would be a hard-nosed urban student of questionable sexual orientation.

Both of these situations, beyond the focus on sex, show a desire for behavior modification not desired by the students. We must also question the safety of these situations along with the real question of: Is the university helping the student succeed, or assuring failure?

University’s claim they are expanding horizons. My personal feeling is we have an academic elite intent on propagating their belief system on an unsuspecting student population, all the while being paid a substantial salary.

While sitting in a café in Paris last March, I was subject to overhearing a Canadian, going to a California school on a scholarship, expound to a lovely French girl how everything about America was wrong. War, poor healthcare, capital punishment, human rights, everything wrong in the world was caused by America.

The good news is after rambling for some time the girl asked to go home, and no, she could find her own way. Soon after they elected Mr. Sarkozy.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

You've certainly tipped us off to a political correctness horror show at
U. of Delaware. What's obviously needed is greater representation of
conservatives in the Administration there. For instance, what would an
ideal president look like?

How about a man with practical training (in engineering, say), but whose
career has been mainly to devoted to business-management education, with
strong views in favor of free enterprise (at a B-school like Wharton,
say). You would also want a guy whose sympathies with the private sector
are manifest through his membership on the boards of investment banks and
other financial institutions. Moreover, you'd want a guy who is obviously
acceptable to conservative office holders, as evidenced, for instance, by
an appointment as Presidential Fellow by the current President Bush.
Finally, you'd want a man whose spiritual life is centered on traditional
religion, for instance, a guy who serves as advisor to a local Roman
Catholic diocese. Such a man would surely put a stop to the PC nonsense at

But--oh my!--I seem to have described the incumbent President of U. Del.,
Patrick Harker!!

So maybe it isn't a conspiracy of left-wing nutcases we've been talking
about, but rather an even more subtle conspiracy of right-wing screwballs.

Norman Levitt

Anonymous said...

Right or wrong all we need to look at is the recent case of Larry Summers at Harvard to see what happens when someone fights this "PC nonsense."

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

Norman Levitt wrote:

So maybe it isn't a conspiracy of left-wing nutcases we've been talking
about, but rather an even more subtle conspiracy of right-wing screwballs

That's an interesting theory, but Occam's Razor would inform us that the more likely scenario was leftist ideologues of totalitarian leanings trying to get away with an involuntary "thought reform" program. What escapes me is how they thought they'd get away with it, unnoticed, in a time of THEFIRE, the internet, and New Media.

A class action suit by students deliberately put through humiliation and suffering would not be inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, Pres. Harker had NO IDEA that this was going on. Many UD administrators only got the "We're exposing the students to diversity and attempting to broaden their horizons." Once they really looked at what was going on, they immediately put an end to this.

Anonymous said...

I am reading the article posted on this website, and the comments made by bloggers, and I just encourage everyone to get their facts straight. The information FIRE used to support the mandatory claim was taken out of context NOT relating to the floor meetings as part of the curriculum. I am not going to spend the time to try to change your views, but just educate yourself with the true facts please. Also, when did educating students to think about issues happening the world around them become such a terrible thing? I am disgusted at the ignorance this website breeds.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, the University of Delaware program is not mandatory (as reported by FIRE). There was a breakdown in communication on several levels which resulted in some facilitators and residents presenting the sessions as mandatory. Students were not forced to participate... and if they were then THAT is where the real problem lies. The goals of the program were reasonable: presenting factual information and exposing residents to situations that they might not normally encounter during their day to day lives that encouraged them to think about issues and formulate their own opinions. Encouraging candid exploration and discussion about opression within today's society is always appropriate, even if Delaware's methods were less than perfect.

Anonymous said...

As a former RA, I can attest to the mandatory nature of the program. My Hall Director (direct supervisor) and my Complex Coordinator (the hall director's supervisor) told us that some events were mandatory. The floor meetings were mandatory and had to have an event/concept from the curriculum presented. These were NOT optional, according to my supervisors. If a student missed it, we would have to do the activity with them another time. There were also mandatory meetings with residents in a one on one setting. The questions we were expected to ask may have been designed to provoke thought, but they were very intrusive, and were NOT optional. The RAs were compelled to coerce the residents to answer the questions, or the RA faced punishment. The residents who refused to meet with us would have to meet with the Hall Director.
While the program may have been optional in some complexes, it was not optional in many places, especially the freshmen dorms.

Anonymous said...

Educating students about issues happening throughout the world is fine; forcing them to accept a certain viewpoint through humiliation or ostracization is not.

Further, according to students and RAs, the UD program was absolutely mandatory, regardless of of UD's post facto insistence to the contrary. FIRE explains this here: None of the information relied upon is "taken out of context," and FIRE has specifically addressed this claim here: