April 8, 2005

Clarification of Purpose

Justin Katz

Jesse Capece offers readers of the Providence Journal the service of clarifying something about which the average citizen might have misconceptions:

My name is Jesse Capece and I, like Mr. Felkner, am pursuing a master's degree at RIC's School of Social Work. I have heard Mr. Felkner run off at the mouth about how the school is left-leaning. The absurdity of this argument borders on insanity.

Of course, the School of Social Work is left-leaning in its beliefs. Social work is about change. Everything that social work does is geared toward destroying the social norms that oppress so many. In short, social work is in the business of change; we are not trying to conserve anything.

Social work is in the business of change — as opposed to the business of helping people. Change first. Destruction of social norms first. Well-being somewhere after that, and defined as freedom from "oppressive" social norms. Take Capece at his word: "we are not trying to conserve anything," which as a simple matter of definition would include somethings evolved through millennia of human society to secure well-being and happiness.

Such an approach is fine, for its true believers, but social work thus defined strikes me as a matter of religious dogma not to be imposed with public dollars. I, for one, am not keen on funding the destruction of social norms. Helping people to secure material needs, yes; leading them toward spiritual deliverance from our shared culture and heritage, no. With the veil of euphemism removed from "social work," surely others will agree.

Although not likely the intention with which his letter was written, Jesse Capece has certainly offered a public service.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Dear Mr. Capece,

First let me say I respect your courage to write the letter. Introducing your name into an issue that has garnered national attention is commendable. I am convinced you are firm in your convictions. However I cannot agree with your views.

I recently saw Denish D'Souza at Brown and he responded to a question with a line that is so appropriate here I must use it, "I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony, I don't know where to begin"

Maybe in the beginning. You say, "Social work is about change. ...destroying the social norms that oppress so many."

The current philosophy of welfare, that government should control/implement services rather than community or market has been a failure since inception. We do need change, and that is exactly why I am here. I have been studying welfare and family structure long before I came to the SSW. Others have been doing so in the bowels of the Congressional Library and have the statistics to make my point.

You say that since I am fiscally conservative I must think "that our social problems need to be solved without providing financial support". First you need to broaden your understanding of conservative. It does not necessary mean less money; it’s a matter of control - does the market control disbursements or does the government. Look at the shift of funding for the non-elderly poor. On a national level there are budget cuts to the usual government money-pits and increased funding for community and faith based programs, programs historically proven to work. Money is still being spent but the successes in the market dictate where.

Secondly my desire is not to remove funding; it is to remove the abuses in the system so more funds are available for those who truly need them. Someone who is not able-bodied should not be subjected to a life of poverty simply because so many others abuse the system and consume limited funds. Where the philosophical division is created is on the question of “who is able-bodied”.

Professor Reamer (our resident architect of the nationally used Code of Ethics), has written that very few on welfare are able bodied due to oppression, which he says comes from capitalism. I do not believe in this premise. I certainly do not think we should develop policies based on it. And I doubly-certainly don't think we should teach this as the only perspective (which includes intolerance for opposing views).

Reamer, the Poverty Institute and their ilk dictate the policies students must promote. We currently have a whopping 14% of welfare recipients that actually go to work. According to their philosophy this is all we can expect.
What if he is wrong? What is the result to society if he is wrong and how do we identify that error?

SSI payments were made to alcoholics because it was deemed a disease and thus they deserved the disability funds. Money was appropriated based on this “don’t blame the victim” policy and checks were written. Low and behold the alcoholics got drunk and drug sales went up. We were simply enabling addicts and the program was ended unceremoniously. This progressive policy, which was ultimately damaging to those it intended to help, quickly showed us how wrong it was.

The school’s proposed welfare reform bill (S-525) redefines “work” as “Job Search”. Someone has to be the bad guy and speak the truth, so I will. This will enable people to cheat the system – and some will do so. Welfare is a safety net, not a hammock.

It takes generations to show the damage of a philosophy like Reamer’s. When we make life on welfare palatable, it becomes a way of life and molds society. From 1960 to 1992 family structures in poverty has changed dramatically. During that period, 2 parent households dropped from 78% down to 35%. Poverty has gone up the more involved government gets involved in providing the services. Not until the introduction of work requirements in 1996 have we seen progress on a consistent basis.

I am quoted as saying there is a “liberal agenda exhibited by the faculty and how these implicit pressures from authority figures can be oppressive." You explain this statement by saying, "So your argument is that an authority figure exhibiting a certain agenda can be oppressive. Well then, shouldn't you be concerned with the conservative agenda exhibited by our President." As seen in the shift of funds for non-elderly poor I would say yes the president does influence the agenda. If he were influencing academia I would say he is doing a bad job. Even if it were solely conservative he would still be doing a bad job.

Education is based on fundamental principles widely accepted as effective. These principles are not observed at the SSW (and at many other schools).

And to your next point, I hate to tell you this especially on a public forum but yes in-group out-group dynamics do occur. This is a widely known phenomenon. I am not the only student that feels the school does not represent or even respect their views. I am a minority but I am not alone.
The oppression we feel is due to the pressures of conformity (here here here and even a PowerPoint) and group dynamics (here here here and so many more). I don't have the time to cite every reference to these issues but there is a whole psychology department right down the road that can provide a wealth of knowledge.

Obviously my grades have suffered since this began. Clearly I will not bend but most students are not in my position and are unable to take these risks.

You see prescribing a political orthodoxy to a profession not only stifles intellectual growth but it is also illegal, West Virginia v Barnetter 1943 (http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/barnette.html ) (are there any lawyers out there who want piece of the school?). I have posted the requirements for 2nd year students at http://members.cox.net/collegebias/intern.htm

As you can see, “progressive” views are mandated. For those of us over 30 we know “progressive” means socialism. Socialist economics without a socialist government is a pipe dream, having read your letter I think I know what is in that pipe.

The next paragraph discusses the movie F9/11. You are correct that the school showed the opposing film (even though in my meeting with Mildred Bates and Lenore Olsen when I asked for them to instruct the professors to show it, I was told "it’s not going to happen"). I never had the presumption that showing the film would make a dent in the election (although 40% of Rhode Islanders voting for Bush was a high mark). My point is that the school prescribes this progressive orthodoxy to the profession and is intolerant of opposing views. I will continue to tell these facts to anyone that will listen. So yes, you are correct.

Next paragraph - academic freedom. The term means we are free from being spoon fed "what is the truth" not the freedom to select different classes. Clearly nobody put a gun to my head, although I have had my tire slashed. I guess passive aggressive is more the social work style. However, there is a proverbial gun to my grades if I don't conform. Are you good with that? Do you feel so strongly about your views that you would insist that anyone who wants to work for "social justice" must conform to them?

In your expanded version in the school newspaper (http://members.cox.net/collegebias/advocate_3_21.htm) you discuss my comments about Thomas Wright and his alleged murder by the hands of his foster parents. Yes I do hold those who developed this policy responsible Would you put your child, niece, etc,,, in the full time care of 2 people who dropped out of high school pregnant only to live their entire adult life on welfare (having another child along the way)? Is this the kind of role model you would like raising your children? If they had any intentions of creating a family or making a better life for themselves and their children (including foster children), the boyfriend could have worked while she stayed home with the kids (and was paid to do so). He was not in a minority group (thus free from the oppressions created by capitalism - re: Reamer) and he had job skills (remember he traveled half way across the country with his girlfriend, kids and 130 pounds of pot, he could have been a trucker). One could even say he was trustworthy as I doubt he had the estimated $500,000 to purchase that much weed somebody trusted him with.

This is the kind of “policy” that is crippling our state.

Yes I find them very responsible. Responsible for policy that is destroying our society, responsible for policy that is destroying our economy and responsible for policy that allowed 2 irresponsible people, enabled with the government's approval of their lifestyle, to end a 3 year old boy's life.

If someone thinks this is a "lack of integrity" then I am sure someone will bring this up to the Academic Standing Committee along with the other charges (see website).

You suggest I could be blamed for killing 1000 soldiers since I voted for Bush. I would be willing to share that burden but I can't take the credit for spreading democracy in the Middle East. That honor lies solely in the hands of our military and current administration.

Afghanistan and Iraq had free elections. Palestine and Egypt are bringing "open elections" to the table. Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan overthrow tyranny. Lebanon is grasping at freedom. Yes Jesse the world is changing. War kills people but noble wars have noble purposes. You cannot argue that democracy and freedom in these 7 countries, where only a few years ago you could be killed for suggesting it, show our success. You should be proud that America is making the world a better place.

Lastly is your understanding of the Academic Bill of Rights. I would only suggest you read it first before you make more comments. Better to remain silent and be thought the fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt. Everything in there is currently in various doctrines within the AAUP. It simply brings more attention to the protection of intellectual diversity with an emphasis on the student.

Why wouldn't you want students to have the same protections the professors openly flaunt? Please tell me what part of the bill you don't like - quote it.

You say, "If social work is going to become a profession where you have to fight to conserve the injustices in society rather than changing them, consider me gone." I truly am amazed you would think that just because someone places his or her trust in market condition rather than the wisdom of bureaucracy, that person promotes injustice. I don't know what to say to that.

Also in this paragraph you mention concern about a school that would teach "the Bush social security plan is going to work". I would love to discuss that with you but I don’t think that was your point.

But it does make my point about academic freedom. This issue is one that should be discussed in the terms of social work. Senator Grassley of Iowa was on NPR last month speaking about the President's plan. He made a point that the current system is disproportionately favoring white women at the expense of black families. Statistically white women live the longest but work the less. Statistically black men die the earliest. The funds that black men pay into social security ends up paying for the white women. If the President's reform were enacted the funds could be transferred to the family when the older male dies, similar to an inheritance. Think of the millions of dollars that would now be in black communities rather than lost to them forever. Doesn't this sound like it is at least worth discussion? Have you ever heard a professor introduce this? Am I the only one who listens to NPR?

But the most salient point I can make that further supports my convictions is that not once did you dispute any of the statistics and results of RI's progressive welfare policy.

The proof is in the pudding. We can argue all day over progressive and conservative ideas. What we cannot argue is 49th in caseload reduction, 41st in job entry, 43rd reducing teen pregnancy, 5th highest in number of abortions, and 36th in reducing poverty - the primary goal of social justice. And what do we spend for such paltry results? Latest reports show RI ranks 5th highest in taxes, 3rd highest in welfare benefits. I don't mind paying Cadillac prices, but not for a Yugo.

So thank you Jesse, thanks for making my point.

Bill Felkner

Posted by: Bill Felkner at April 8, 2005 10:24 AM