Letter to a Professor Re: the Department's Political Activities

Sep 12, 2011

[The letter below was sent November 22, 2010. It was sent while I was under the impression that the voter guide distributed by the department chair from the organization USC OTPAO was created by USC OT professors. I address this deception by the department in the Tid Bits section in a piece titled "USC OTPAO: A Symbol of USC OT's Corruption." To save the reader some time I give the definition to an unusual word used below. Qua: in the capacity of] 

Dear Dr. XXXXX,

                The department’s activities during the election have persuaded me to contact you. Although the issues I feel compelled to address are serious and critical of the department, I hope that the goodwill and understanding between us allows for the expression of philosophical differences.

                As a general principle, I think it is inappropriate for professors to use their power over students to promote their political ideology.  The professor-student relationship is momentous in shaping a student’s entire life. Students make themselves extremely vulnerable when they place their trust in professors to develop their minds and professors have an obligation to place their students’ intellectual development above any other consideration. In what follows I will explain why I think what the department did was wrong and seek your assistance in promoting a better understanding of public policy among our students.

                Using the concept of occupational justice, a concept which is not much more than a encapsulation of liberal political values, the department issued a voter guide to influence students to vote in favor of liberal-supported ballot measures and every Democrat running for state-wide office. This guide was then promoted in our medical lectures class by a department employee. Additionally, we received an AOTA email, an organization we are required to enroll in, telling us to vote for Barbara Boxer and showing a photograph of Dr. XXXXX with the senator. In the same week the department’s own policy organization sponsored a discussion by a fellow at PNPH, a group whose purpose is government-controlled medicine. The department also offered students scholarships to attend another PNPH event on November 15th, which included sessions on how to manipulate others into supporting government-controlled medicine by using certain phrases. Nothing in this slew of events was geared towards making students informed thinkers on the issues; I believe the department treated students as tools to further the department’s ideological objectives. For a student who is still developing her philosophical and political beliefs and trusting her professors to help her with that goal, the only conclusion she could have drawn from these events is that the only legitimate political positions for occupational therapists are left of center and that the only legitimate view of health policy is government controlled central planning.

                As there is no necessity for any health care service provider to have any particular political ideology, I believe the department’s political activism is entirely gratuitous. Occupational therapists need not adhere to left-wing ideology any more than physical therapists need adhere to right-wing politics. The decision to link the discipline to left-of-center politics was made simply because those with the power to do so are liberals who have arbitrarily decided to promote their own political values. 

                Another problem of interjecting professors’ political ideology into the classroom is that political views are based on more fundamental views about what is morally good and bad, what is just and unjust. By telling students how to vote you are telling those with different views that their views are the bad ones, that they are for injustice, and thus that they are not welcome. Since my views are exactly diametrically opposed to every single position the department has announced, as well as being diametrically opposed to the philosophical foundations of occupational justice, the department is telling me that I am not welcome as I represent injustice. Perhaps it’s of no moment that this excludes me, but the department’s behavior has a similar effect on many other students. The department seems to have never considered that among the student body there are students who oppose abortion for religious reasons. To be clear, they do not oppose abortion because they are against people “choosing” things; their opposition is based on the belief that abortion destroys human life. I thought it was callous for the department to urge in writing and orally in the classroom that religious students, who opposed abortion because they believe it destroys a human being, consider voting for a pro-abortion candidate simply because the candidate will do something for occupational therapy. I do not write as a Christian.  I am not religious, I am in fact an atheist, and have been since I was in grade school. This has made me acutely aware of the alienation institutions inflict on those with different views. I find the department’s insensitivity to Christians who oppose abortion very troubling. It suggests that the department puts advancing its own political ideology ahead of providing a welcoming environment for students with diverse philosophical views; it demonstrates that the department may talk about cultural sensitivity but that cultural sensitivity takes a back seat to advancing the department’s political agenda.

                Another problem of making students objects of the department’s ideological advocacy is that the department is now making pronouncements on issues for which no professor in the department is qualified to make. [Regarding Props 23 and 26] Qua occupational therapy professor, none are trained in atmospheric science and therefore have no standing to make any claims on that subject that students should grant any deference to. Qua citizen, professors are free to believe what they want, but that doesn’t give them any credibility as professors to urge students one way or the other on the issue of global warming. [Regarding Prop 25] Qua occupational therapy professor, none are trained in parliamentary procedures and therefore have no standing to make pronouncements regarding how California’s legislature should enact bills. Qua citizen, professors are free to believe that it should be easier for leftist politicians to plunder its most productive citizens, which is the purpose of lessening the number of votes needed to pass legislation. But it is in the capacity as occupational therapy professor that professors deserve our deference, not in their capacity as citizens. Our relationship depends on the fact that professors have taken on a specialized course of training under the tutelage of experts and so have developed specialized knowledge and skills. A professor’s job is to impart her specialized knowledge to students and assess how well students have mastered it. That’s it and that’s why professors deserve our deference. By making pronouncements outside of its area of specialized training, and by using a discipline meant to train students to provide a health care service to instead advance a political agenda, the department has violated the foundation of the student-professor relationship.

                I don’t believe that students can become informed and adept thinkers on public policy issues by only being exposed by one perspective, much less when that perspective is presented in a way to purposely manipulate students. To become informed and adept thinkers on public policy issues requires that students be exposed to multiple perspectives and take the time to weigh and measure the arguments and evidence that compete with each other. To that end, I would like to start a group called Students Interested in Free Market Medicine. This is not an advocacy group. It is not Students FOR Free Market Medicine.  The group is meant for people interested in public policy and who would like to learn about a different approach to our health care system, one that does not exists today and has not existed for about half a century. I wanted to explore the possibility of taking five to ten minutes of time in our xxxxxx class to present students with some fundamentals about free market medicine, hopefully pique their interest, and see if they would be interested in learning more about it. I would also like to present a petition to students which asks the department to refrain from trying to influence our political decisions. It would be an anonymous petition so no one need identify themselves. Each student would be given a sheet and they would be free to mark it with an X and submit it in my box so that no one will know who signed it and there would be no pressure to sign or not. I think this would be an effective way to find out if the department’s actions are having a negative effect on students.

                My hope is to accomplish a better understanding of public policy among students and empower students to promote the kind of environment they desire and to do so in a respectful way, and so would welcome discussing any of your concerns and hearing any of your criticisms on this matter.

                Also, since we have discussed an alternative assignment for next semester’s course, I wanted to suggest the possibility of making a presentation I call The Horror of Benevolence. The title can be changed if that is an issue, but the content of the presentation has to do with the economic concept of price and how failures to understand it has lead to several public policy tragedies. It is essentially a talk on the history of some public policy measures that were well-intentioned but failed because of economic ignorance. I thought it would fit into the conceptual structure of the course because students are being asked to develop programs which they may later seek government funding for. I think my talk puts their goals in broader perspective and alerts them to issues they need to consider if they are going to develop their programs. I have given it before and it is about a 30-40 minute presentation.

                Please let me know what you think.