To USC OT Re: Why I Started My Website
Published May 26, 2011  printer-friendly

April, 10, 2011

Dear Dr. xxxxx

Dear  Dr. xxxxxxxxxxx,

          I wanted to thank you for meeting with me. It was very kind of you to do so and I appreciate the opportunity to be heard. These events have been an incredible source of anxiety and anguish for me since October. My website is not something I did lightly and it’s a process that produces a certain sense of disorientation as I try to function in an environment I am criticizing.

         Since our time together was short we were only able to discuss a few issues and even then only superficially. One of the issues I wanted to make you aware of was why I decided to start the website. I decided to do it during the class session in our Leadership course in which students who went on the Lobby Day field trip were required to give a presentation in class, a presentation that amounted to a cheerleading session for Single Payer. It was a presentation filled with many misleading and false statements, which is understandable when coming from students. But xxxxxxxx was lecturing in class that day, functioning in her capacity as an expert on public policy, giving clarification when others sought it and volunteering her own views. She had also served as a guide through the Lobby Day experience. She allowed misstatements that favored Single Payer to stand unchallenged while quick to explain statements that might count against it. The result of the cheerleading by students plus xxxxxxxx’s corroboration resulted in an environment where students were not being educated, but manipulated.

        Part of the presentation included a video of a Lobby Day speaker announcing that America’s health care system ranked 37th in the world. No one questioned this. No one bothered to research this. It was allowed to stand as fact even though the editor-in-chief of the report on which that ranking was based repudiated the data used for this study in The Lancet in 2003, calling the rankings “meaningless” and “nonsense” and calling the data upon which they were based “spurious.” In other words, students were given misleading information with no correction from xxxxxxxx or from Dr.xxxxxxxxxx only because it promoted a left-wing political agenda.

          On top of this, one of the student-presenters struggled to make the point that some people would not like Single Payer because it would cover illegal immigrants. The reason she struggled to make the point was because she was forbidden from saying “illegal,” because of the political influence of those involved in Lobby Day. Also, Dr.xxxxxxxxxx stated that the adjective “illegal” before the word “immigrant” was forbidden because she didn’t want to “criminalize people” in her classroom. Curiously, this was the only time during the presentation that Dr. xxxxxxxx felt compelled to make any comment – she only felt compelled to assert her authority in the classroom when it came to policing language in order to control thinking to favor a liberal political agenda. To make matters worse, this statement by Dr. xxxxxxxx about not wanting to criminalize people with language is completely incoherent as language does not criminalize people, the law does. Under the law specified in Title 8 of the U.S. Code § 1325 it is a federal crime punishable by imprisonment to enter the United States without permission. It was to the people who violated this law, the illegal immigrants, who the student was trying to refer to. But because of the highly politicized environment that discourages language that would hurt the liberal position, this student omitted the word “illegal” from her presentation and said that some people wouldn’t like Single Payer because it “would cover immigrants.” Do you see how radically different that is from saying people wouldn’t like it because it would cover “illegal immigrants”? The statement was ridiculous and false, one the student felt forced to make, and was clearly uncomfortable making, because she was pressured into avoiding language that would have expressed the idea clearly. 

          I thought that was an awful spectacle in the classroom and since it was yet another instance where the department was explicitly pushing liberal politics I decided that day that I would no longer remain passive about it and would create a website to address these issues.

          I hope it’s evident from all the events we discussed and those mentioned here what general direction the department’s focus on politics will take as people progress through the program: the push and the mistakes will always be in the same direction. The department in one way or another will always push students to the left. Whether it’s forbidding language to promote a liberal outlook, telling us to vote for liberal candidates in the classroom and through emails, or criticizing students for not wanting more government money for schizophrenics as Professor xxxxx did to one student, who later complained about her treatment to Dr. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, the direction will always be the same.  And that’s what I will criticize on my website. I believe the way the department approaches politics and advocacy is illegitimate and it is that illegitimacy that will serve as the website’s subject matter.

                The issue here is not merely one of promoting Democratic politics over Republican politics. The focus of the program is to promote and legitimize statism through the promotion of advocacy. By promoting advocacy you endorse and legitimize the current system that promotes special interest group politicking, where rational policy-making is made impossible as politicians scramble to please each group threatening to vote for them or not depending on what special favors these groups can extract. I think it is entirely illegitimate for an academic department to promote that. It may be amusing for people to hear xxxxxxxxxxxxxx reveal, quite unwittingly, how corrupt the system is and how he wants to be part of that system, but it is not the job of a university to promote that participation. It is the job of an academic department to develop skills and impart knowledge. Promoting a specific political system or political practice is not part of that job – it is the job of an academic department to analyze political systems and political practices, not promote them, even if you think them true, good, and sound. For example, I think laissez-faire capitalism is the true, good and sound political system, but if I were a professor I would be incredibly ashamed of myself if I promoted or advocated such a system in the classroom and I would be self-conscious of this to the point that I would take steps to protect students from my own political inclinations as I would want to do my job with integrity and treat students as an end in themselves and not as tools for my political objectives.

          To help make my position more clear I’d like to point to Dr. xxxxxxxxxxxxx hypothetical of celebrating the ADA with Senator Boxer. My view is that an academic department should not be in the business of celebrating legislation. An academic department is in the business of subjecting legislation, and all other topics, to analysis - historical analysis, sociological analysis, economic analysis, and so on.

          Celebrating a thing in an academic environment only promotes close-mindedness about it. You can celebrate the ADA as an individual if you like, but that is different from the job of an academic department subjecting a thing to analysis. The desire to celebrate the ADA would raise for me the question of what it is you are celebrating. Last October a study out of M.I.T. found that the ADA actually resulted in increased unemployment for the disabled. (See study here: Would people celebrate the ADA if they knew that? And if students are taught to celebrate the ADA before they have studied it, how will that affect their openness to data that suggests the ADA is actually hurting those it intends to help? I think it only affects them in the negative; it closes their minds and puts them in a mode of seeking justification for a thing regardless of the data because of an emotional commitment they have already made. It is in fact the job of a university to develop the habits of mind that protect students from such a priori emotional commitments, and that is done by developing the habit of engaging in informed analysis before one feels comfortable feeling anything about a topic.

          Also, for those with my political perspective, it wouldn’t matter whether the ADA raised or lowered unemployment for the disabled because we see the ADA as an illegitimate use of the coercive power of the state; it is an example of how government uses the threat of violence to establish non-consensual relationships. These types of countervailing facts and perspectives are issues that would come out of various analyses of the ADA, allowing students to make an informed and sophisticated decision about what it is they should think about the ADA. And if they conclude that the ADA is something that should be celebrated, then so be it. At least their decision-making process – and just as important, the dignity that comes from coming to conclusions on one’s own – would be preserved. None of this happens when the ADA is reflexively turned in to a totem for reverence.   

           I know that my view on what is appropriate for an academic department is the minority view, but I think it is the best-reasoned view. Since I can’t do this view justice here, if you’re ever curious about understanding this view more deeply, in case you have not already examined it, I have placed a copy of Dr. Stanley Fish’s book, Save the World on Your Own Time, in Dr. xxxxxxxxxxx  box. Dr. Fish is an extremely liberal professor and there is very little I agree with him on, but I think his reasoning here is quite powerful.

          I am very much aware that my views are unorthodox and so it was never my intent to make them public here as I had assumed there would be no need to. But because this is a program designed in every possible way to make politics central to training occupational therapists, I will make myself political as well. I do think it is extremely unfortunate, however, because politics is a thing that divides us. It divides us because at root politics is about what is just and unjust, what is morally good and bad. And to be for one thing is to say that to be against it is wrong and makes one immoral.  To promote certain candidates and ballot measures on the basis of occupational justice, as did the voter guide issued from Dr. xxxxx’s email, for example, is to imply that those who do not support those candidates and ballot measures are unjust. To be for abortion is seen in the eyes of some as supporting the murder of an unborn child; to be against it is seen by some as supporting the subjugation of women. There is no middle ground here, and thus no meeting ground here. Name any issue – war, taxes, affirmative action – and the sides align against each other with each one posing as the side of light in a fight against the benighted. That is politics.

          Politics is a realm where blows are given and taken in the battle over what we think is right and just. That’s why I find it so absolutely awful when presented in the classroom in any other way than as a subject for analysis. When treated as a subject for analysis, politics forces us to be thinkers, to question what it is that makes us human and how it is we should get along with each other – an infinitely invaluable activity for civil society; but when treated as a thing to advocate for, politics turns us into combatants. And that’s now, unfortunately, where we stand.

          Since I now plan to  express my views  and promote the values and practices I think are right and good and just, I do want to make you aware of what I intend to do so it is not a surprise and you know beforehand my intent and motivation.    

          I think Dr. XXXXX’s position as AOTA president represents a conflict of interest that inures to the detriment of USC students and so that is something I will criticize. I think it is inappropriate to force students to join AOTA now that Dr. xxxxx is President. I think that Dr. xxxxx was poorly served by those she relied on for counsel in this matter. Coercing membership in an organization where an administrator of the university is also the president of the organization and from which she receives funds for her activities with the organization is a serious ethical and public relations problem. I plan on addressing this issue both with USC administrators and trustees, as well as the issue of department administrators asking students to donate money for AOTA’s political arm through the “take 5” program. Students should never be burdened with the choice of pleasing or displeasing those who have power over them by donating or refusing to donate money.

          I also think AOTA membership should be voluntary and I will use AOTA’s procedures to submit a motion forbidding any coerced membership. It was this coerced membership by the department that exacerbated the harm caused by all the political activities just before the last election because our emails from our AOTA membership were given to the political action committee and it used them to promote Senator Boxer by sending out a photo with Dr. xxxxx I didn’t know until Dr. xxxxxx told me that her photograph was sent from the political action committee rather than AOTA itself that that was indeed the case. But who exactly sent it is really irrelevant; students will not pick up on those technicalities – I certainly didn’t – and I think a university has to hold itself to a higher standard than merely meeting legal technicalities. These technicalities are lost on everyone. They may be useful while defending yourself in a legal controversy, but they have no reality for students in our daily interaction with the department. I believe an academic department is obligated to strive for two fundamental values in its operations: (1) it should strive for the appearance of propriety and (2) the avoidance of the appearance of impropriety. These are the proper standards needed to ensure a free and open learning environment. And having photographs of a department’s chair with a politician in an email telling students to vote for that politician has the appearance of impropriety because the chair of a non-profit academic department is forbidden by law from sending that email herself to her students.

           There is a similar issue of the appearance of impropriety with the voter guide that was issued from Dr. xxxxx’s email. Dr. xxxxx is not permitted to send such a voter guide herself as it tells students to vote for specific candidates. The IRS regulations specifically state that voter guides from non-profits are to be informational, not partisan. Having a doctoral student, especially one Dr. xxxxx is mentoring, create an organization that then creates and distributes material that is illegal for Dr. xxxxx to distribute also has the appearance of impropriety.

          I think it’s important that if the department concludes there has been a misuse of Dr. xxxxx’s email or a misuse of the classroom, that that be addressed to students directly. Silence on the issue of the voter guide sent through Dr. xxxxx’s email as well as silence on the use of class time in Medical Lectures to promote candidates and ballot measures endorses those practices and leaves students with the impression that these are officially sanctioned practices by the department.

          Again, I am terribly sorry that things have come to this. I appreciate very much the opportunity and honor to speak to you. I’d rather not be in conflict with people I respect very much, especially with Dr. xxxxxx for whom I have a profound admiration. I understand that my views are not well-regarded and I take no offense at their being criticized. But I hope you understand that my views stem from deep seated values that I have come to only after serious and extended thought and study. I am always open to and consider it a privilege to discuss these matters with you if you ever have any questions.





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