Friday, October 19, 2007

Worth Quoting

In its entirety, below. (For my take, see THIS previous post)

Statement from the Council on Social Work Education

19 October 2007

Over the past two years several major attacks have been launched against social work education, particularly using its accreditation standards and processes as the vehicle for attacking what is perceived to be a liberal bias in the academy. The attacking entities have been the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the National Association of Scholars (NAS), and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).

First, on November 2, 2005, the NAS sent a letter to the Department of Education (DOE) requesting a review of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Accreditation Standards, based on the erroneous assumption that CSWE was recognized by the DOE as an accrediting body. CSWE responded in a letter to the DOE, correcting the erroneous assumption (CSWE is recognized as the sole accrediting body for social work education by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, CHEA).

Then, again, October 25, 2006, a letter was sent by three organizations to the Assistant Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services, requesting a review of the requirement that social workers hired by the U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corps have MSW degrees from CSWE accredited programs. CSWE sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary and received a response in January 2007, in which the accreditation standards were upheld as being consistently recognized by the uniformed services as “an indicator for validating the quality of social work programs.”

Recently, a study conducted by NAS reports on its review of ten social work education programs located in major public universities. The inquiry was to determine if the programs “conformed to the academic ideals of open inquiry, partisan disengagement, and intellectual pluralism.” The NAS study found “social work programs to be, at every level, chock full of ideological boilerplate and statements of political commitment.” CSWE Accreditation Standards were identified as contributing to this situation.

The study’s arguments, with which most university administrators are familiar, center on excerpted statements from social work program mission statements about social justice, oppression, and advocacy. They suggest a liberal ideological bias to which students must conform through acceptance of the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the national social work practice membership organization and for which these same students must lobby and advocate. These organizations, rather than recognizing what the social work profession is about, claim that CSWE through its accreditation of programs, insists on adherence to a liberal ideology, and by statements of social work purpose included in its Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards*, coerces social work programs to promote this ideology. Nothing is further from the truth.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the sole accrediting body for 648 baccalaureate and master’s degree social work programs in the United States. These programs currently enroll 52,300 students in a diverse array of 514 colleges and universities in the United States – public, private, liberal arts colleges, religiously affiliated colleges and universities, and research institutions. With a diversity of strength, mission, and resources, accredited social work programs share a commitment to the education of competent, ethical social workers. The mission of CSWE is to provide quality assurance for social work education programs as they prepare professionals for social work practice based on the profession’s history, purposes, philosophy, and body of knowledge, values and skills. It is incumbent upon the individual programs and their faculties to develop appropriate educational formats and curricula within their institutional contexts for the education of social work practitioners.

The profession itself has a long and time-honored practice tradition of advocacy for social justice as well as a commitment to participation and inclusion in the structures of democratic society. Fundamental to social justice is the protection of individual and academic freedom of thought and expression, including religious and political beliefs. Social work education, through the CSWE accreditation process, expects social work faculty and students to respect diversity of thought and practice in the pursuit of social justice and in the academic context that reflects the program’s mission and purpose. The CSWE accreditation standards are explicit in this regard: “The program makes specific and continuous efforts to provide a learning context in which respect for all persons and understanding of diversity (including age, class, color, disability, ethnicity, family structure, gender, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation) are practiced.”* In addition, CSWE accreditation standards include attention to student rights and responsibilities and a procedure for filing complaints of non-compliance with the CSWE Commission on Accreditation.

George Will recently commented on the NAS study in an article in the Washington Post. He and the NAS study contend that social work education and practice are devoid of critical thinking and balanced analysis. CSWE requires social work programs to prepare graduates to “apply critical thinking skills within the context of professional social work practice.” * To exclude this requirement in a discussion of social work seriously distorts CSWE expectations and presents an incomplete and inaccurate picture of social work education and practice.

Social work education has graduated generations of practitioners who embrace the profession’s historical commitment to social justice and use critical thinking skills in their practice, reflective of the intellectual norms of the academy. CSWE will continue its dedication to quality assurance and program expectations that ensure open and respectful participation by faculty and students.
I'm not sure they really address the central complaint of the NAS, however, which is the insistence that educating about and advocating for "social justice" is an inherently liberal project. What do you think: is it?

UPDATE: FWIW, here's where the NAS gets it's money, from Mediatransparency.

1 comment:

ejackson said...

Here is the Response from NASW's Executive Director that was sent to the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/19/AR2007101902281.html

Code of Concern

Dear Washington Post Editors:

Conservative columnist George F. Will has taken public umbrage with the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Code of Ethics and its mandate that adherents advocate for social justice. In his review of a National Association of Scholars report, Mr. Will ignores the context in which professional education and training occurs—for all professions. This criticism misrepresents social work education and is a disservice to our members and the clients they serve.

Social workers are committed to solving social problems while helping people improve their quality of life; fairness is a defining characteristic of the profession. Like all citizens of a participatory democracy, it is critical for social work students to develop the skills necessary to advocate within available legal and political structures.

Social work students learn to use advocacy for the benefit of individuals, families and populations who are most vulnerable to the unresolved social problems of the day. Services for veterans, children, chronically ill persons, the elderly, and struggling families are improved by social work advocacy.

Members of NASW hold a diverse array of opinions on many social issues, including abortion and homosexuality as mentioned in Will’s column. However, professional social workers are united in their commitment to respecting the rights of clients to access services and expand options available to them. Social workers do not apologize for caring about people who are marginalized by society, nor do we apologize for holding members of our profession to high standards.


Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, MSW, MPH
Executive Director
National Association of Social Workers