A Complaint Against the University of Alaska-Fairbanks · 22 August 2005

By Karen Siegfried--08/23/05

To those concerned;

I, as a former student in the Secondary Education Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, believe that the department employs discrimination on political and socioeconomic grounds, and fosters and tolerates hostility toward certain religions inside the classroom. Such discrimination is contrary to NCATE policies, and to the principles of academic freedom. The program teachers also actively discourage any questions or criticism related to any teacher, teacher's group or union, or educational policy favored by the staff.
The following are collected samples of conversations and situations that occurred within the program. I would like to disclaim at this time that although I am no longer a part of the program, that these accusations are not retaliatory, nor am I asking for readdmittance into the program. The only thing that I intend to ask the university, is the removal of the final educational practicum class from my transcript, because I feel, for the reasons elaborated in this complaint, that the grade reflected ideological discrimination and not academic value. I can provide, upon request, statements from friends and family that I had voiced the concerns outlined in this complaint as early as the summer that classes began, and that I had plans to leave the program entirely from the beginning of January 2005, and that I had requested information on a different program at a different university that year, and was enrolled in classes for this program before the end of my final semester in the UAF education program. My transcript, which I can also provide upon request, will show that I have always been a student of good academic standing in all classes, including those within the education program. Also, although I will cite cases in which I believe the actions of teachers have demonstrated hostility to the Christian faith, I am not, nor was I raised, a Christian and I maintain that were such instances directed towards any other religion, my response would be the same; this is not about any one religion, it is about intolerance.

At the end of the first semester of this program, I was informed that evaluation had deemed my personality inappropriate for the teaching profession. This may be the case. However, I cannot confirm or deny the accusation because, despite my best efforts, I was given no information concerning said accusations. I asked on numerous occasions for clarification of the charges and was denied. I asked what I had done and the response was that no one wanted to argue with me. I protested that I needed a relevant example to understand how I was to improve and was refused. The only attempt made by the department to explain anything was in a short and incredibly vague list of behaviors, only relevant to situations in which I was the teacher, but I had not yet taught a class and thus my evaluation was based upon behavior as a student and not as a teacher, and never once referenced my behavior. With this in mind, I asked for examples that related to the classes I was in, which would allow me to analyze my behavior. I was again vehemently refused in my request and directed towards my counselor, BJ Craig. I asked my counselor for advice and was told not to ask my teachers any more questions regarding the charges.

The actions of the education staff in this instance demonstrate an inability to accept cultural differences in learning. White people from low income families tend to learn by direct examples and from direct responses, but I was afforded no direct answers. Much to the contrary, my professor, Dr. Noble, seemed to regard my questions as though they were maliciously calculated to annoy her, and refused to give any credence to the idea that our respective social classes, and thus cultures and learning styles, were at all different. The standards for the next generation of teachers on page 4 of the NCATE standards states that educators should "apply effective methods of teaching students... come from diverse backgrounds." In addition, the definition of "all students" under Standard 4: Diversity, includes students with different socioeconomic origins (10). I believe the educators of the program have failed in teaching understanding of diversity if they themselves fail to exhibit understanding.

My other concern regarding this incident is the constant and often angry refusal to any request for explanation or information about what I had done to merit the warning, or what I might do as a student to improve. Without this information, it is impossible to improve my behavior to the staff's standards without mind reading or guessing. If there was any good reason for this information being withheld, I was never informed of it. From where I stand, the refusal of necessary information is nothing short of sabotage. Without such justification, I am left baffled by what seems to be deliberate obstruction of my progress within the program. I can see no possible reason for this obstruction unless the information would appear incriminating. As the charges against my personality appeared after I had argued politics with my teachers, I am left further suspicious.
Attached is a copy of my e-mail correspondence with Dr. Noble on the subject of the charges.
As another example; in one instance in Dr. Noble's class we were presented an article in which a teacher encounter anti-gay prejudice while trying to arrange for students to join a campaign for AIDS research. For my part, I have taken an active part in gay rights groups in my home town, but I felt that the teacher in said article handled the situation poorly and that his conclusions were faulty. However, Dr. Noble seemed to feel that any comment that strayed from direct condemnation of the actions of the students stemmed from homophobia. This incident demonstrates that she was more than willing to ascribe the worst possible cause for opinions that are not her own, and that she is willing to jump to conclusions based on such rash ascriptions without seeking any clarification or allowing the accused the right of defense.

Although NCATE's policies clearly define socioeconomic origins under the diversity clause of the program standards, no teacher in the program made even a token effort to include the values of low-income households in any discussion of diversity. In fact, when an assignment was given to examine the culture and background of a specific underprivileged group of people, Pro. Maida Buckley refused to consider socioeconomic status as a form of culture, although "gifted and talented" and "disabled" were accepted as topics. In this vein, the terms "redneck", "trailer trash," and "white trash" were used by some interns in the program classes without consequences. The fact that disagreement with the assumptions of a teacher faced with anti-gay bigotry was considered bigotry by the education program's educators, but overtly prejudiced remarks made against a ethnic/socioeconomic class are tolerated expresses the staff's disdain towards this class.

The freedom of religion is given token respect by the staff, however, while hostility to minority religions is not tolerated, hostility towards Christians is accepted. As part of the unit curriculum, groups of students were sent to various small private schools in the Fairbanks area, two of which were religious schools. My group toured Monroe Catholic School. During the presentation it was mentioned that Monroe does not require any teachers, except religion teachers, to be Catholic, and has had protestant, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, and Baha'i teachers. I was asked at least three times if this was really true, and later, when I said it seemed like a good place to work, I was asked again if the school would really accept me. The phrasing of the repeated questions indicated that the askers were hoping for a different answer than the original, and were visibly disappointed by the idea that the Catholic school was open-minded.
Eventually, another member of my group recounted a comment made by one teacher from Monroe that was less favorable. Apparently, one teacher had made the comment that she believe the Israeli-Palestine conflict was ongoing because they weren't Christians and did not believe in turning the other cheek. This comment was met by immediate condemnation by Professor Raymund, who not only defended the faith of Islam (but not the Jewish), but used this as an excuse to make a crack against Catholicism. In this situation, I clearly understand that the teacher's comments were wrong and deserved criticism, but instead the criticism was directed towards her religion, which is clearly the same type of intolerance that she herself exercised. He exhibited different standards for different religions.
The double standard, is further illustrated by the same teacher's failure to comment when, in the presentation of Fairhill Christian School, an intern spent nearly ten minutes discussing her fear and loathing of being in that school environment because, in her words, the people "were just so Christian"; she expressed the desire to run out screaming because she was certain the students and faculty were going to attack her with holy water. While the intern was likely exaggerating her response, she expressed her clear dislike of religious practices that are not her own. So, while Pro. Raymund was quick to respond to a second-hand criticism of Islam, used as a bad example and obviously not shared by the interns, he said absolutely nothing to this show of outright religious bigotry.
NCATE standard 5: Faculty Qualifications, Performance and Development, states that acceptable "faculty are qualified and model best professional practices in scholarship, service and teaching." (11) But this professor failed to model best practices as a teacher in accordance with NCATE's vision of professional teachers, which states that teachers must be prepared for a diverse community of students -- standard 4: Diversity states that "all students" includes those with different religious beliefs or backgrounds (10). Pro. Raymound's conduct in this these circumstances, violates the letter and spirit of the standards of diversity by treating religions, and by extension this would mean the religion's practitioners, by different standards and allowing, without comment, anti-religious beliefs bigotry to be expressed by teacher-interns.

While congeniality among members of a single profession is pleasant, I feel that most of the educators in this department take the idea to unprofessional levels. Any implication, by anyone, that not every teacher is an exceptional educator. Pro. Beebe expressed immediate disapproval of my comment that I had mediocre high school teachers and did not have a truly exceptional teacher until college, despite the fact that she did not know any of them. Dr. Noble expressed the same sentiment, she also explained, in glowing terms, that it is almost impossible to fire a teacher for incompetence and claimed that protection for substandard teachers protects us all.
These instances create a climate for an instance that I found truly disturbing -- in an instance in which I brought up a teacher from my high school as a bad example, Dr. Noble immediately defended the man. This particular teacher -- besides being elitist and insulting to any different philosophies -- was fired from my high school for supplying drugs and alcohol to students and for sexual molestation. Without knowing this teacher, but knowing that his actions were immoral and illegal, Dr. Noble felt the need to defend him on the grounds of professional courtesy. I spoke about this incident with my counselor, BJ Craig, who defended Dr. Noble's actions, saying it was not the place of anyone who is not a teacher to criticize a teacher.

In regards to the educational views of others, on at least two occasions, other viewpoints were introduced in class and the class was asked, not to analyze, but to condemn them. In one case, we were presented with an article that included a quote from Bill Gates on the subject of the public school system. The class was asked to discuss the problems with his views. Regardless of my opinion of the man, (which is rather low) or of his views, (I do not have enough information) I feel that it was inappropriate to prescribe a point of view to the class and dictate how we should feel without discussion. In the other incident, the class was given a copy of a letter to the editor by a parent criticizing disciplinary practice in public schools. The class was directed to draft a response to the erroneous views in the letter. Again, the ideas to express were directed by the educator and not examined or discussed by the interns in the class. Similarly, textbooks and speakers always expressed the same viewpoints on educational policies and legislation; for example, all classroom material was all expressly against No Child Left Behind, but there was very little discussion of what the legislation contained. In one instance, Dr. Noble openly suggested sabotaging the program to ensure its failure. In practice, interns are encouraged to completely accept all prevailing views without question or comment.

Among items cited in a improvement plan, created by my supervisor, BJ Craig, was a statement that I had expressed a negative attitude towards a school board meeting and the curriculum of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The charges once again demonstrate that dissension is discouraged in the UAF education program, and that charges are levied without any kind of explanation from the student charged. For instance, the only comment I made about a school board meeting was that I was bored. I could also note that the principal of North Pole High left the meeting earlier than I did because he said that he was bored, or that being bored does not mean that I find the meetings unnecessary -- I have testified before the Anchorage school board many times during my High School career. I will admit the write-up I did of the meeting was hurried, not my best work, but treating a lame attempt at humor as a personality disorder indicates the depths of mistrust the instructors feel towards challenges to any form of school traditions. (This writeup I have also included) Likewise, my comments about the district curriculum were to the effect that, in my opinion, student input would enhance student interest, and that I greatly disliked "The Great Gatsby" and did not see how it constituted great literature. I also questioned the premise of how "great" literature is picked for recognition. These comments were philosophical in nature, something that may be argued about by reasonable adults. They are not attacks on an institution, nor are they attacks on a profession. The sole explanation I received, as to why my comments were noted as unprofessional, was that students might respect authority less if a teacher questions any school policy or procedure. In other words, teachers must form a united front against students.

Such subjugation of dissenting viewpoints directly violates the NCATE policy stated in Standard 5: Faculty Qualifications, Performance and Development: that faculty are to model best professional practices "including assessment of their effectiveness" (11). Preventing criticism of teachers prevents careful analysis and assessment of effective teaching practices. In effect, the practice denies that ineffective teachers can exist. NCATE's vision of professional teachers states that educators should "encourage collegiality, reflexive practice, continuous improvement, and collaboration among educators, learners, and families" (4). However, the response I received from BJ Craig, that non-teachers should not criticize teachers, discourages collaboration with families and learners, and a organization that defies criticism cannot improve, much less effect "continuous improvement." Also, when teachers feel obligated to always defend another teacher, even if said teacher's actions are illegal, the result is a lack of trust and confidence from the public, which again, decreases the amount of collaboration between teachers and the community.

The actions of the educators within the University of Alaska Fairbanks' educational program directly contradict the policies outlined by NCATE. Teachers routinely dismiss the significance of the culture and learning style of lower income students, and discourage significant discussion of academic policies. The political bias in the textbooks encourages dissenting students to hide their beliefs, always unsure of whether any comment may make itself felt in the secretive personality assessments. If educators instructing the next generation of teacher fail to accept diversity of opinion and religion, the program itself is flawed.

Challenging the Final Grade Assessment:

I am writing to challenge the final grade assessment of the Educational Practicum class that I took in Spring Semester 2005, on the grounds that the final assessment that determined my grade was influenced by bias against my social background and politics rather than academic reasons, and because no clear grading scale was offered, nor was any concrete reason for the final grade.
The class was independent and graded by a panel of teachers from the Education department, based on their perceptions of my personality as perceived from several semesters. Attached, is a copy of a complaint I made to NCATE concerning the conduct of the Education department of UAF, as this complaint ties into my challenge because it demonstrates the ideological homogeny of the education staff.

I am not asking for readmittance into the program. I am asking to have the final grade removed, as the reasons for its implementation, I believe, were discriminatory and not academic. Failing this, I ask for a clear and concise explanation for the charges made against my conduct and personality that cites specifics and examples, which I have hereto been refused.

A copy of my challenge will also be forwarded to Students for Academic Freedom.

While the class grade that I am currently challenging was mentored by one professor, Pro. BJ Craig, the grade was decided by a council of educators from the department, therefore in this complaint I will comment on instances from other classes in the program as evidence as to how political and social bias and discrimination served as the foundation for my final grade, and also how, in other classes, I attempted to had divine some meaning from the vague warnings of misconduct I was given.

I have cited, among other things, in my complaint to NCATE, that the professors I had in the Education department were hostile to opposition, to certain religious groups, and to the values inherent to a lower income background. Not mentioned in the complaint, because NCATE has no policy on political discrimination, is the obvious political bias evident in the choice of textbooks and speakers in all Education classes. To summarize briefly, textbooks offered in several successive classes contained highly politicized and biased references to political issues that ranged from affirmative action, guns, video game content, stem cells, and abortion - all expressing views from the left of the political spectrum, with no variation or discussion. On the few occasions in which I attempted a discussion in class, I was either ignored or silenced. For example, in a discussion on affirmative action (On which I have no particular opinion) I asked several somewhat critical questions regarding the policy, the reaction I received for merely asking instead of nodding in appreciation and acquiescence, was that of anger and I felt it prudent not to speak my opinion any further on that subject. I was treated like a racist, not even for disagreeing, but for questioning the implementation of a policy, as though beliefs outside of a narrow spectrum are insane and do not merit discussion. Reasonable people can disagree on many things; the reaction I received for entering a discussion was not reasonable. Within the education classes, diversity was only skin deep, meaning race but not ideas. The atmosphere in the classrooms were such that I resorted, by the second semester, to parking my car pointed away from the University Park buildings because I feared a teacher's reaction to any of my bumper stickers would adversely affect my grade.

I feel that my political divergence from my professors, as well as the difference in socio-economic background, is relevant because of the way in which my teachers handled my personality review. Charges were made against me on several grounds within the Professional Characteristic Form, but I was not made aware of the reasons for the charges or for any situation or behavior that related to the charges, despite my many attempts, which are outlined in the attached NCATE complaint. The only answers were incredibly vague, and, considering a charge was made of unresponsiveness to other cultures by people who routinely mocked and suppressed dissenting viewpoints and opinions and otherwise expressed bigoted opinions toward religions and social classes, the definition of responsiveness must have meant something entirely different from what I believe it to mean, unless of course, teachers are not held to the standards imposed upon the students. Attempt to discover what I was expected to do to "fix" my behavior were likewise thwarted.

Reactions to my questions were met with avoidance and then to hostility. The end result was that I was incapable of complying with the behavior guidelines because I was never told how I had diverged or how I was to change, or even given a proper definition of what the charges entailed relevant to what the teachers had seen. (As a cum laude English graduate, I believe I have a fair capacity to understand instructions and explanations if they are written by a reasonable person. I did share what paperwork I did receive with several other friends who, like myself, were unable to discern anything understandable about the accusations.) Either this was because the educators who graded my personality were unwilling or incapable of accepting or even recognizing my culture, as defined by my economic station, and believed that I should think enough like them to understand what they thought I had done wrong - without them ever telling me - or, that my personality assessment was based on my teachers personal dislike of me and on the partisan political beliefs of the staff -- holding that their beliefs are good and therefore all opposing views are malicious -- and clarification of the charges did not occur because my teachers were aware that the accusations held no legal merit.

Whatever the reasoning, the fact remains that I was denied a grading scale, I was denied the right to know what I was accused of, and I was denied the information that would have enabled me to meet class criteria. My final grade was based on a scale that I was not privy to and judged on assumptions that I was not allowed to contradict. Prior accusations that were never explained to me were included in the final decision. I hesitate to assume the worst in people, but the constant refusal I have encountered seems to denote a guilty conscience, and failing any change in my grade I demand an explanation for the grade and for a recount of situations of my misconduct that were alluded to by teachers but never explained.

I do not ask for readmittance, as I had decided to leave the program before the conviction of the practicum grade was passed. I do not ask for a passing grade - as my actual ability cannot be assessed this long after the class and any grading criteria would be applied post-mortem, only a removal of a grade. I am asking for a clear explanation of the panel's reasoning, and to the situations that led to my teachers to their assumptions of my personality.