Friday, February 18, 2011

University to Change Policy Defining Religious Discrimination as Oppression by Christians

(Sometimes, even Leftists have to eat a little crow)

The University of California at Davis has backed away from a policy that defined religious discrimination as Christians oppressing non-Christians after more than two dozen Christian students filed a formal complaint.

The definition was listed in a document called, “The Principles of Community.” It defined “Religious/Spiritual Discrimination” as “The loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture’s religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian.”

“This is radical political correctness run amok,” said David French, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. The conservative advocacy group wrote a letter on behalf of more than 25 students who objected to the policy and wanted it revised. He said it’s absurd to single out Christians as oppressors and non-Christians as the only oppressed people on campus.

Raheem Reed, an associate executive vice chancellor at UC-Davis, said he received the letter and removed the definition Wednesday afternoon. “I certainly can see how a Christian student reading that definition might feel and that’s why it was immediately disabled and taken down,” Reed told Fox News Radio. “This is not how we define religious discrimination.”

However, one student said they complained to administrators last November about the policy and nothing was done. “Christians deserve the same protections against religious discrimination as any other students on a public university campus,” French told Fox News Radio. “The idea that a university would discriminate against Christians is a very old story, unfortunately, and one that we see played out every day.”

One student, who asked not to be identified, said university officials asked her to reaffirm “The Principles of Community” last semester. She refused to do so when she realized that Christians were not protected under the policy.

“To have a non-discrimination policy that excludes the Christian faith is a cause for action,” she said. “In higher academia, one would hope that a diversity of ideas and beliefs would be appreciated. But my experience has been that this has not always been the case. There is a real fear of academic bias against the Christian faith.”

Reed said he regrets that Christian students might feel intimidated. “We want everyone to feel safe, welcomed and supportive,” he said. “Not only are we taking it down, but now we’re going to look at what kind of affirmative steps we can take to reassure those members of our campus community who may have felt somewhat threatened or intimidated by it.”

French said all of the students who complained are fearful of backlash if their identities became known. “This was amazing to actually enshrine in your non-discrimination statement – discrimination against Christians,” he said. “This is a symbol of the seeming impunity in which universities violate the law to establish a radical, secular-left agenda.” Alan Brownstein, a law professor at UC-Davis, said the campus has a generally open and tolerant view of religion.

“It’s a university campus,” he said. “There is robust debate and people will disagree on just about everything.” Brownstein, who is a nationally known constitutional scholar, said any legal challenges to the policy would depend on whether or not it’s a binding document. “Clearly, if you had an enforceable regulatory policy that said, ‘we will discipline Christians who oppress non-Christians, but we will not impose the same kind of disciplinary sanctions on non-Christians who engage in the same kind of harassing behavior against Christians,’ that would be unacceptable and subject to legal challenge.”

Reed said “The Principles of Community” is not a policy. “They are, in fact, aspirational principles we have – to try to make sure we are promoting diversity and trying to build a more inclusive campus community,” he said.

Regardless, Brownstein said it might have been more appropriate to use less-specific language in the policy. “It’s always preferable to be as general as you can when you describe these kinds of unacceptable behaviors,” he said.


Teacher suspended over vitriolic blog post

Teachers must not tell the truth about their students

A high-school English teacher in suburban Philadelphia who was suspended for a profanity-laced blog in which she called her young charges "disengaged, lazy whiners" is causing a sensation by daring to ask: why are students unmotivated - and what's wrong with calling them out?

As she fights to keep her job at Central Bucks East High School, 30-year-old Natalie Munroe says she had no interest in becoming any sort of educational icon.

Her comments and her suspension have clearly touched a nerve, with scores of online comments applauding her for taking a tough-love approach or excoriating her for verbal abuse. Media attention has rained down and backers have started a Facebook group.

"My students are out of control," Ms Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying."

And in another post, Ms Munroe - who is more than eight months pregnant - quotes from the musical Bye Bye Birdie: "Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS."

She also listed some comments she wished she could post on student evaluations, including: "I hear the trash company is hiring"; "I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son"; and "Just as bad as his sibling. Don't you know how to raise kids?"

Ms Munroe did not use her full name or identify her students or school in the blog, which she started in August 2009 for friends and family. Last week, she said, students brought it to the attention of the school, which suspended her with pay.

"They get angry when you ask them to think or be creative," Ms Munroe said of her students. "The students are not being held accountable."

Ms Munroe pointed out that she also said positive things, but she acknowledges that she did write some things out of frustration - and of a feeling that many children today are being given a free pass at school and at home.

"Parents are more trying to be their kids' friends and less trying to be their parent," Ms Munroe said, also noting students' lack of patience. "They want everything right now. They want it yesterday."

Ms Munroe has hired a lawyer, who said that she had the right to post her thoughts on the blog and that it's a free speech issue.


British government uneasy that universities will do what the government says they may do

The Coalition is threatening to cut higher education funding to stop universities imposing blanket £9,000 tuition fees. In a direct warning to vice-chancellors, it was claimed the Government would be forced to slash university budgets to cover the increased cost of student loans. David Willetts, the Universities Minister, said serious pressure would be placed on the public purse if institutions attempted to “cluster” fees at the maximum possible level.

The comments come just days after Imperial College London became the first university to formally declare that it wanted to charge a flat rate of £9,000 for degree courses.

Oxford and Cambridge are considering a similar move and it is feared other leading universities will follow suit to maintain teaching standards. Student leaders have also warned that less prestigious institutions will attempt to impose the highest possible fees.

Under higher education reforms, the cap on tuition fees in England is being raised from £3,290 this year to £9,000 in 2012. Universities that want to charge more than £6,000 will be expected to invest more money in bursaries and outreach programmes to attract the poorest students. Financial modelling carried out by the Treasury suggested that universities would charge average fees of £7,500 next year.

In a speech to vice-chancellors on Thursday, Mr Willetts said: “I want to be frank with you: we will all face a problem if the sector tries to cluster at the maximum possible level.”

Under the reforms, students pay nothing while they study as the Treasury provides loans to cover the cost of tuition fees. Only after graduates have started earning £21,000 a year will they begin to repay the loans.

But speaking at Nottingham University, Mr Willetts said the student finance bill would be inflated to unsustainable levels if too many universities charged £9,000 fees – forcing the Government to make cuts elsewhere.

“We set the maximum level at £9,000 because we think there are some circumstances where fees of this level could be justified,” he said. “If graduate contributions end up higher than £7,500, we would reluctantly be forced to find savings from elsewhere in [higher education].”

Mr Willetts also accused universities of “rushing” to impose higher fees even though the extra cash was often not needed. At many universities, the most common courses cost £7,000 a year to run, he said. “Making an assumption of a £9,000 charge and working backwards is the wrong place to start,” he said. He added: “Some universities are rushing to £9,000 without thinking about the impact on students.”

The comments came as the Government published a report setting out plans requiring each university to draw up “student charters”. For the first time, institutions will be expected to give students written guarantees on issues such as support and feedback from tutors, the number of lectures and tutorials and standards of accommodation. Documents – expected to be around two pages long – are expected to give students clearly defined “rights” in exchange for a hike in tuition fees.

The report – by Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, and Prof Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University – said charters would also “help prospective students to get a ‘feel’ for the institution”.

Mr Willetts said: “Students have a right to know how they will learn, how they will be supported and what they need to do themselves to reach their potential. “At a time of significant change in higher education, students have increased expectations of their university experience. I want a system where students have real choice and universities respond to what students need.”

In his speech, Mr Willetts also denied that the Government was requiring each university to admit "quotas" of students from poor backgrounds. A letter last week to the Office for Fair Access from Mr Willetts and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said universities should "broaden access" if they want to charge fees higher than £6,000. Universities can also make lower grade offers to students from poor-performing schools who have the "potential" to perform well.

But he said: "Our letter does not introduce quotas – not one iota of a quota, in fact. That is not what Vince or I envisage at all. Not only would quotas be undesirable – they would be illegal."


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