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'Toxic' environment after Christian's complaint

An independent report on the School of Social Work at Missouri State University says officials there bullied students by creating “an atmosphere where the Code of Ethics is used in order to coerce students into certain belief systems,” documenting allegations made by a Christian student who was penalized under the system.

Frank G. Kauffman (Missouri State University)

As WND reported late last year, Missouri State social work professor Frank G. Kauffman was placed on leave as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought on behalf of student Emily Brooker.

She refused his assignment to lobby for homosexual adoptions because it violated her religious beliefs, and then was brought up on ethics charges within the program’s system. Her lawsuit, handled by The Alliance Defense Fund, was settled quickly by the school with the leave of absence as well as monetary damages and a removal from her record of the charges against her.

Now the report shows the problems within the university’s Social Work Program are worse than anyone expected, and in fact may endanger the future of the program.

“I do believe Springfield and the region needs a solid Social Work program; we must decide if Missouri State can provide one. If so, it will be up to the faculty and leadership of the program to offer a plan for building us back to where we need to be,” said University President Michael T. Nietzel in a report to his constituents.

The report found that “many students and faculty stated a fear of voicing differing opinions from the instructor or colleague. This was particularly true regarding spiritual and religious matters however, students voiced fears about questioning faculty regarding assignments or expectations. In fact, ‘bullying’ was used by both students and faculty to characterize specific faculty.”

“It appears that faculty have no history of intellectual discussion/debate. Rather, differing opinions are taken personally and often result in inappropriate discourse,” the report said. It continued that the use of the Social Work Code of Ethics to intimidate and browbeat students is “a distorted use … in that the Code of Ethics articulates that social workers should respect the values and beliefs of others.”

The report was commissioned by Provost Belinda McCarthy at Nietzel’s request, and it was done by an outside group of social work education experts.

“This review was motivated by our recognition that, in light of the claims by Emily Brooker, it was important for current and prospective students, for potential employers, and for the faculty and staff in the program to have confidence that the policies, procedures, leadership, and delivery of the program are up to par,” Nietzel said.

“I regret to report what will be obvious to you … Their evaluation of our Social Work Program is extraordinarily negative. In fact, it is as negative a review of an academic program as I have ever seen,” Nietzel wrote.

“As much as I am embarrassed by the report, I have decided it must be made public. The perceived problems in Social Work are too numerous and too serious to hide or diminish,” he said.

He said while a long-term evaluation of the problems and their remedies continues, he is consideration a postponement of an accreditation review, a hold on any tenure decisions in the program, and a freeze on all hiring in the program.

David French, of the ADF, said it is to the school’s credit that the report was done, and was released. “What happened to Emily couldn’t have happened absent a toxic environment,” he concluded.

The report on the Social Work Program said the program’s policies and procedures had been used to “bully and browbeat” students and noted that the “faculty’s lack of respect for authority impedes the functioning” of the school.

The report argued for major changes before Missouri State even considers hiring new leadership and moving forward. “It is difficult to imagine any competent persons being willing to assume the position of Director while the environment of the School is so toxic,” the report said.

It also reported evidence suggests that admissions requirements “are applied differentially with possible bias against students who are faith based.”

Among other recommendations, the inspectors said faculty members must follow course learning objectives and have consistent expectations, field placement plans currently violate accreditation standards and “students should be treated respectfully from the point of application through graduation.”

“Neither of the reviewers have ever witnessed such a negative, hostile and mean work environment. Persons in administrative roles are held in contempt by the faculty; faculty colleagues are disrespectful to one another, and some faculty are disrespectful and demeaning toward students. The consequence is a dysfunctional and hostile work and learning environment,” the outside experts said.

“Faculty appeared to have little or no insight into the reasons for the reviewers’ presence. In fact, many faculty clearly felt that this was just one more exercise with outside consultants/reviewers. Faculty stated that ‘nothing ever resulted from the past consultant/reviewer visits and that they did not expect any consequences to occur as a result of our visit,'” they reported.

Among the recommended options was “Close down the school; disband the faculty and restart the school after a short period.”

The state Legislature also was considering the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Act, which would require each state university in Missouri to provide an annual report explaining what steps were being taken “to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.”

Missouri State announced just days after the lawsuit was filed it would “clear Brooker’s official record,” and pay damages of $9,000. It also agreed to “waive academic fees at Missouri State University, or in lieu thereof, reimburse an amount equal to two years of degree work toward a Master of Social Work degree” at costs estimated at $12,000, “plus Brooker will receive $3,000 per year in living expense for two years of graduate education.”

“We acted on these allegations as soon as we became aware of them,” said Nietzel.

Brooker, pursuing a degree from Missouri State’s School of Social Work, had been ordered by Kauffman, a professor of a required course, to write a letter to the Missouri Legislature expressing support for homosexual adoption.

After she refused on religious grounds Kauffman brought against her a Level 3 Grievance in the school’s legal system, the most serious charge possible, which left Brooker facing the possibility of having her degree withheld.

In addition, Brooker was subjected to a 2 ?-hour “Star Chamber” type of questioning from an ethics committee whose members did not allow her to have representation in attendance. During that questioning, she was asked personally invasive questions such as, “Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?” and “Do you think I am a sinner?” the ADF reported.

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