Monday, January 07, 2013

The Julea Ward Settlement: A Win for Religious Liberty

Alliance Defending Freedom recently settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of Julea Ward, a former graduate student at Eastern Michigan University who was expelled from her counseling program after refusing to violate her religious beliefs. Media reports have unfortunately suggested that Julea's lawsuit involved her refusal to counsel a client because he identified as gay: this is untrue.

Instead, her case involved her religious objection to being forced to provide counseling about sexual relationships outside of marriage, an objection which applies equally to homosexual and heterosexual clients.

Her objection is to providing counseling on certain topics, not to counseling any particular group.

So the claim that Julea refused to see clients who identified as gay is patently false.

The actual facts are that Julea faced a values conflict when a potential client sought counseling about a homosexual relationship. Recognizing the likely values conflict with the client, she asked her professor whether she should refer him before any meeting took place and was instructed to do so. But the University charged Julea with "imposing values" on the potential client, and disobeying ethical rules that apply to counselors. It then expelled her from the program, even though she was a stellar student who was carrying a 3.91 GPA.

Julea's referral request was not a renegade act. Indeed, the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, which the University requires students to follow, broadly allows for referrals anytime a counselor determines an "inability to be of professional assistance," and also endorses referrals where a counselor's personal beliefs prevent her from providing end-of-life counseling.

Other permissible referrals would include an atheist counselor referring a Christian client seeking help with a crisis of faith, and a pro-abortion counselor referring a pregnant client who wants to keep her baby. These and many other values-based referrals (including the one Julea inquired about) are permissible precisely because they are in the best interests of the client.

Despite all this, the University targeted Julea for punishment because it disagreed with her religious beliefs. But public universities are for everyone, not just those who follow politically correct trends.

So we filed suit to defend every Americans' God-given right to live in accordance with the dictates of their conscience. And although the district court did not protect this right, the Sixth Circuit reversed in a strongly worded opinion that firmly establishes that "discriminating against the religious views of a student is not a legitimate end of a public school." Julea's settlement enforces that principle, expunging the black mark of expulsion from her record and providing her with $75,000, a portion of which she can use to cover the educational expenses incurred as a result of the University's misconduct.

The settlement not only rights the wrongs the University did to Julea personally, it also leaves the Sixth Circuit's opinion intact, which is a major win for religious liberty. The opinion held that "the First Amendment does not permit educators to invoke curriculum as a pretext for punishing a student for her religion." Regardless of what policies a public university puts into place, it cannot use them to target students' religious beliefs for punishment.

Even more importantly, the Sixth Circuit explained that "[t]olerance is a two-way street," and that any rule that compels affirmation of homosexual conduct and discriminates against contrary religious beliefs "mandates orthodoxy, not anti-discrimination," in direct violation of the First Amendment.

Religious students are thus protected from public universities' perverse attempts to prevent them from living out their faith in the name of "non-discrimination." In the future, universities are on notice that they "cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief systems based on a phantom policy as the price for obtaining a degree." Even if an established policy exists, universities must apply it in a "faith-neutral manner" and are forbidden from "permitting secular exemptions but not religious ones."

Thus, the University's claims that the settlement "leaves the University's policies, programs, and curricular requirements intact" and that the "faculty retains its right to establish, in its learned judgment, the curriculum and program requirements for the counseling program" are irrelevant. The point is that university policies must be applied in a manner that respects students' First Amendment rights, which is where the University went wrong with Julea.

Put simply, the Sixth Circuit's opinion requires public universities to respect students' fundamental religious freedoms and ensures that the maltreatment Julea experienced will not be in vain. And that is a big win for students everywhere.


“Education Is The Key?” Assessing The Value Of A College Degree In A Tumultuous Economy

Half of recent college graduates can’t find employment. Those who find a job often settle for something less than a “college level job.”

So what good is a college education, anyway, in our very unstable economy?

As 2013 launches with more federal government debt and American businesses guessing when the next punitive regulatory show will drop, most Americans are ignoring an area of societal upheaval that is poised to get more intense. Increasingly, Americans are wondering how essential it is for one to possess a college degree.

The upheaval transcends what you’ll read in the occasional “top paying” and “worst paying college degrees” articles. In fact, the presumption that a particular college degree will land one in to a particular job with a particular salary is actually part of our problem (such presumptions don’t adequately allow for the fact that our economy, and, thus, the relative value of skills and services, is always subject to change).

The most obvious manifestation of this problem is found in the pain of ever-rising tuition costs, and student loan debt. This isn’t anything new, but the recessionary conditions of the past five years have brought college degree price tags, and the debt they engender, under the microscope.

President Obama has spoken to this concern over the years, and-not surprisingly- he has proposed more “free” and reduced-rate student loans (all to be subsidized by taxpayers). His main challenger in last year’s presidential race, Mitt Romney, campaigned on policies to spur job creation as means of putting young graduates to work. Yet both candidates ignored the real problem: no matter how the economy performs or what the labor markets are doing, the price of a college education always moves in one direction-up.

So, why does this happen? Why, when the prices of other products and services either remain flat or decline, do tuition rates steadily rise? At least part of the answer is found in one very important fact. It is a consistent agenda within institutions of higher learning to offer as many low cost, and even “free” tuition programs as possible. Whether you’re examining state run colleges and universities, or private institutions, look in to the details of their budgets and the agenda becomes clear. It is a point of pride when, year after year, college and university leaders can report that they issued more “scholarship” programs that were doled-out according to ‘financial need.”

This is to say that colleges and universities are often set up to function like their own little economic re-distribution systems. And while the goal of getting lower income Americans enrolled into college is noble, the cost of it is usually balanced on the backs of middle class students and parents who are trying to earn their way through life. If a student isn’t “poor enough” to qualify for needs-based assistance, then the student will face ever-rising tuition rates.

The less obvious component to the college education dilemma directly involves changes in the nature of our American economy. Although it doesn’t fit conveniently in to the various narratives of our national political dialog, the fact is that our country may very well be – believe it or not – on the verge of a manufacturing renaissance (gasp!). And it may be happening without the permission and blessing of the AFL CIO (gasp again!).

For most of the past forty years, the U.S. has been a place where great things are invented and designed, but the actual building of those things has happened on other continents. Yet last year, the General Electric Corporation began once again to build refrigerators and dishwashers in the U.S., reversing a nearly two-decade long trend. Last fall, the Deloitte global consulting firm published a report suggesting that nearly three-quarters of a million jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector remain un-filled, because employers can’t find workers with the correct skills. And Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, even suggested that the U.S. is poised for a sizeable “in-sourcing” boom – the opposite of “out sourcing” – where manufacturing jobs that were once “sent overseas” return home.

This scenario also challenges the importance of a college degree. It suggests that we may be on a trajectory where people who know how to weld, operate a lathe, and run a drill press, could one day be in higher demand than those with accounting, engineering, and computer science degrees.

An “in sourcing” boom. A manufacturing renaissance. Some would call these things wishful thinking, yet the beginnings of such phenomena are here, right now. Americans should be preparing for it – and we should all be asking the leaders of colleges and universities why their prices only go up.


Teacher 'bias' gives better marks to favourite pupils, British research reveals

It really does pay to be the teacher’s pet. New research has revealed that teachers mark children’s work according to how they feel about particular pupils.

The study, commissioned by the Department for Education, found that staff allow “bias” and “personal feelings” to influence their marking. Neat handwriting also bring children extra marks, it found.

The research involved more than 2,000 teachers judging essays written by their 11 year old pupils over the course of a year. The overall marks awarded to pupils were then double checked by specially trained, external “moderators”.

They discovered that in one in ten cases, teachers had marked the work too favourably. In 5 per cent of cases, the work was marked too harshly.

Nearly two thirds of the moderators said they thought that “teachers’ personal feelings about particular pupils influenced their assessments” on some occasions or on a regular basis.

Children who provided longer stories or had very neat writing were also more likely to receive better marks, regardless of the quality of their writing, most moderators said.

The study was conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, as part of wider research into the impact of changes to the national curriculum tests which will come in to effect this year.

The findings cast doubt on teacher objectivity and undermine calls from teachers unions and some academics for internal assessment to replace external tests at primary school level.

It comes after a report by Ofqual found that teachers in some secondary schools over marked GCSE English essays last year in a bid to get more pupils to a grade C, thereby “fiddling” league table rankings.

Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said: “It is a failure to understand human nature to rely on teacher assessment.

"If the results are going to be used to judge schools and teachers, you would expect teachers to be as optimistic in their marking as possible.

"When teachers know the pupils, they are going to be influenced by all sorts of extraneous things such as whether they like the pupil.

"Some staff are more favourably disposed to female than male pupils for instance, some employ stereotypes, such as expecting Chinese pupils to do well but not expecting too much from say, Bangladeshi children.

“Essentially the only fair way to test children is through externally set and externally marked exams.”

Professor Peter Tymms, Durham University’s head of education, has warned against “inherent bias” in teacher assessment and said it should not be used as a measure of school performance.

He said staff could be subconsciously biased according to factors such as a pupil’s gender, ability, social class or behaviour in lessons.

Even if teachers were aware of their prejudices, trying to compensate for them would not make their assessments reliable.

“If you know you have got that bias and you react against it, you might go too far in the other direction,” he said.

Under the new system, which was partially introduced last year, primary teachers will assess the quality of their pupils writing over the year and produce a score.

Specially trained local authority moderators will then check a sample of their judgements in at least 25 per cent of schools.

In addition, a new English grammar, punctuation and spelling test will be taken in May, along with the standard reading test. Both are externally marked.

Teachers will submit their writing scores before the results of the grammar and reading tests are known to prevent it from influencing their judgement.

The Department said that it had not yet decided whether the three elements of the English test will be reported separately or whether the scores will be added together.

A spokesman said: “We expect teachers to take professional responsibility for accurate assessments so that all children get the results they deserve.”


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