Cruel Conservatism

Fox News reports:

A former student at the Rhode Island College School of Social Work is suing the school and several of his professors for discrimination, saying he was persecuted by the school’s “liberal political machine” for being a conservative.
William Felkner, 45, says the New England college and six professors wouldn’t approve his final project on welfare reform because he was on the “wrong” side of political issues and countered the school’s “progressive” liberal agenda.

The story goes on to give details of the persecution, which has become so expected in academia as to be almost entirely unremarkable except for one detail, which is this juicy little quote from Professor James Ryczek: “I think the biases and predilections I hold toward how I see the world and how it should be are why I am a social worker. In the words of a colleague, I revel in my biases…” (emphasis mine). Isn’t that special?

We all have biases. Some of us are aware of them and some of us aren’t. I certainly hope that I’m aware of my biases because being aware of them, realizing they influence my perception of people and events, is the only way I can ensure that I’m not misled by them. This is just a side note, however, to what I feel is the more important underlying issue revealed in this article.

Instead of focusing on the last part of Professor Ryczek’s quote, let’s take another look at the first part. “I think the biases and predilections I hold toward how I see the world and how it should be are why I am a social worker.”

Still confused about where I’m going with this?

A little later in the article, another professor is quoted in support of Felkner.

Kim Strom-Gottfried, professor of social work at U.N.C. Chapel Hill, said that faculty members should not impose their politics on students.

“My bottom line is I think clearly as faculty we have to appraise our students based on required competencies and demonstrations of that, whether critical thinking or whatever, but there shouldn’t be a belief litmus test for joining the profession or for an assignment,” Strom-Gottfried said.

StromGottfried then goes on to say:

“The questions I have in cases such as his — why would someone choose to affiliate with a profession that’s so at odds with his beliefs and his value-base? That’s always a question for me,” she said.

Strom-Gottfired has clearly revealed the underlying assumption that helping those in our society who most need it is at odds with the beliefs and values of a conservative.

I know this stereotype is rooted in the differing philosophies of liberals and conservatives as to how to best help people. To my way of thinking, liberals take the short-sighted approach of treating the symptoms of people’s problems. But to liberals, apparently, the conservative, long-term approach of helping people to help themselves is more than just a different approach; it’s a hard-hearted callousness the belies any words to the contrary. Whether liberals actually believe that to be true is irrelevant. It is a false stereotype that they have successfully introduced into the public psyche.

(Taking a more cynical view, it could be argued that liberal politicians and social work professionals favor the short-term approach because it provides them with the opportunity to expand the size and scope of government programs – in the case of politicians – and job security – in the case of social workers – but that would be off topic.)

Why have conservatives allowed themselves to be defined as people who are unconcerned with the needs of others? You can’t blame liberals for going on offense. We can only blame ourselves for refusing even to go on defense. For conservatism to make a strong comeback in 2010 and beyond, we must be willing to counter false assumptions on every front: whenever, wherever, whoever, whatever. We need to develop a bold offense that makes a positive case for conservatism using every means at our disposal.

We need, I think, to develop a little attitude.

Cross posted at It’s Only Words