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SHORT TAKES


December 3, 2009

A Dean Who Can't Read?

Jean Quam, a professor of social work who is dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development, has wholeheartedly defended her school's proposed "cultural competence" curricular redesign---in an op-ed for the Star-Tribune that provides a glaringly misleading description of the critics' argument.

Most of Quam's op-ed consists of little more than administrative boilerplate---the sort of jargon that appears on any university website anywhere in the country. Her department's curriculum "will be a national model for preparing teachers for the real challenges of a 21st-century classroom." "Now is a critical time to address barriers to student achievement and to give teachers and administrators the tools they need to be effective." "We value diversity and encourage exploration of all viewpoints and ideologies."

The key point of Quam's op-ed came when she dismissed the argument made by columnist Katherine Kersten, who first exposed the U of M's plan to enforce personnel and curricular bias in its Education program. "Kersten's primary concern," claimed Quam, "is that the initiative addresses the reality of how issues of race, class, culture and gender play out in classrooms and affect student achievement. Her position is that discussion of these issues equates to indoctrination."

I have read Kersten's column; I encourage you to do so as well. Nowhere does it articulate a position that discussion of issues of race, class, and gender "equates to indoctrination." Nowhere does it even come close to such a position.

Puzzled at Quam's reference, I e-mailed the dean, and asked if she could point to the sentence or paragraph in Kersten's column in which she claimed that the mere discussion of these issues "equates to indoctrination." When Quam did not reply, I sent a follow-up the next day. I included the text of the Kersten column, and asked if she could merely point to the sentence in which Kersten had made the argument that Quam had claimed. Quam's response: she sent me an e-mail that contained no words, with an attachment consisting of her contact information.

The only two possible explanations for Quam's op-ed, therefore, are not encouraging.

1) The dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development lacks basic reading comprehension skills, and didn't understand what Kersten had written.

2) The dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development willfully misrepresented her critic's argument, in the hopes of staving off an inquiry from the legislature, alumni, or donors into her college's behavior.

Quam isn't alone in misrepresenting the U of M's agenda---although her statement is far more blatant than most. As FIRE's Peter Bonilla has pointed out, the (few) bloggers who have tried to defend the U of M's proposal have seemed to go out of their way not to read the relevant documents in the case.

Given the troublesome nature of Quam's op-ed, will the state legislature fulfill its duty and provide oversight?

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