Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ideological Tests at the U Part 2

My post last week about the recent change in essay question for admission to the U of M's Masters of Nursing Program program has received a lot of notice. Readers can't believe the audacity of the University to pose such a question let alone not provide any assurances to the students that this is not a test of ideology that could prevent them from being admitted into the program.

Here is the question:

Statement: "It is appropriate for the state government to provide funding for health care and education of illegal immigrants."

First, take the perspective of someone who agrees with this statement and provide rationale that supports agreement.

Next, take the perspective of someone who disagrees with this statement and provide rationale that supports disagreement.

Finally, indicate the position - either agreement or disagreement - that YOU support given what you know at this time. Provide rationale for your position, considering the validity of the rationale you provided previously for agreement and disagreement.

(The YOU in all caps is exactly as it appears on the U's website). You're supposed to do all of this in 2 double-spaced pages. Such constraints would lead to a debate with all of the intellectual quality of Cher's from the movie "Clueless".

I've had phone calls and emails about the post and wanted to give you more of the story.

I called the School of Nursing at the U a couple of weeks ago wanting to know about the decision to change the question from a more generic one that had been used up until now. I first spoke with Jamie Gearhart. I asked when and how the decision was made and inquired if I could speak to somebody on the committee that decided to add this controversial question to the admissions application. She didn't know exactly when the decision was made, but when I guessed "in the last six months", she said "yes".

She informed me that she took the meeting minutes and was there that day, although she was not a member of the committee. I said "Great, I'd like to get a copy of those meeting minutes"....she then told me I needed to talk to the Chairperson of the Nursing School's Graduate Admissions Committee, Associate Professor Renee Sieving.

Prof Sieving picked up the call, we spoke briefly. She said that the question I had was about their Doctoral program, I said "no, I'm looking at the questions for the Doctoral program and they are generic, this is for your Master's program. She requested that I schedule a call with her, which I did for the following week.

Sieving was recently featured in the Star Tribune and her area of research includes: "youth health promotion; prevention of multiple health risk behaviors (sexual risks, violence involvement, school drop-out) among adolescents."

Some of her published articles include:

Family and racial factors associated with suicide and emotional distress among Latino students. Journal of School Health

Young adolescent responses to different question formats assessing race/ethnicity (letter to the editor). Journal of Adolescent Health

The effects of race/ethnicity, income, and family structure on adolescent risk behaviors. American Journal of Public Health

Here's another one: Parents’ Beliefs About Condoms and Oral Contraceptives: Are They Medically Accurate?

which concluded: the more politically conservative a parent was, the less medically accurate his or her views typically were.

Fascinating findings.

Anyway-- I called Prof Sieving back the following week. She was polite enough, but the conversation just went around in circles. She initially said that the question was changed because there was "a lot of redundancy" using previous questions. This is interesting, because last fall there were two questions: 1. Describe how life experiences (e.g., personal, family, educational and work-related experiences) have prepared you for excellence in nursing.was about and 2. Given that there are many more applicants than can be admitted, discuss what makes you an excellent candidate for this intensive program.

Now they've combined those questions into one question and added the illegal immigration question. It's interesting to me that people trying to distinguish themselves as individuals sounded so much alike that there was "a lot of redundancy."

She stated that the purpose of the question was to give students a chance to logically lay out two sides of a controversial issue and that they didn't care whether students agreed or disagreed. If the purpose is to make sure somebody can debate both sides of an issue logically, then the third part about what they thought was entirely moot.

She kept circling back to "it's not our intention" (to test someones political views.) To which I kept replying, "Whether or not it's your intention, that is the consequence of posing such a question."

She also kept referring to the second half of the third part of the question which reads: Provide rationale for your position, considering the validity of the rationale you provided previously for agreement and disagreement. She seemed to be saying that this made the question fair.

Considering the validity of the rationale? Who determines the validity? Validity is truth that can be demonstrated- correct? Again, 2 pages-double spaced for the entire 3-part essay question.

I pointed out that I had several people look at the question and many were puzzled what such a question would have to do with the field of nursing, to that line she quickly snapped "Then they don't understand nursing."

Apparently I don't either.

There is certainly a new breed of nurse-activist/leader out there, that I know. State Representative Maria Ruud fits this mold as a card-carrying member of the Nurse's Union-- she uses her professional experiences to further a lefty political agenda.

Sieveg said that their graduates are taking on "leadership positions in the field of nursing" and they "must be able to understand perspectives on controversial issues related to health care." (And obviously in issues related to education too.)

Odd that the word "leader" appears nowhere on their program description. The Masters in Nursing is for people who have a non-nursing Undergrad so that they can prepare to be RN's.

At one point in the conversation Sieving said "I can tell that you are passionate about this issue." (Don't you love the passive aggressive, "it's just you who's crazy" move?) I replied "Actually some 70% of Americans cared enough about this issue, many of whom called Congress as recently as 2007", (I was wrong it was actually 62% of Americans who were either "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" with illegal immigration in 2007. But, I reminded her that my opinion on issue was neither here nor there.

Sieving then said that this was the type of question that would be asked in an ethics class in the program. I said that I could understand that the issue could be raised in a classroom once a student was in the program. (I mean these types of political questions are posed even if you're an Engineering major these days). But, I still thought it was unsuitable as a way to determine whether or not to a student should be admitted into the program.

Finally I shared with the Professor that my advice to a friend applying to the program would be to keep her answer murky and not give her real opinion about the issue to which Sieving replied, "And that would be fine." I said "No, it wouldn't be fine and that's exactly my point in raising this issue".

The University either wants individuals with no point of view, who they can easily mold, or they want prospective students to lie on an admissions application. Now do you want to talk about ethics?

Admission to the program should be based on merit, PERIOD. But we all know that's not the case in modern day academia. The application states:

"The School seeks to admit and educate a diverse student body, both in order to enrich the student's educational experience and to prepare them to meet the health needs of a diverse society."

Here are the admission statistics for the program. They admitted 21% men into the program when only 5% of nurses are men nationally. So my daughters would be given preferential treatment if they had born with a ......What nonsense! Affirmative action run amok.

The University complains to the legislature about lack of funding and continually increases tuition rates to the point where our public University is almost unattainable for many students-- yet they turn away perfectly qualified candidates which could help drive down costs for all.

I know for a fact that qualified students, with stellar academic records, who are lifelong residents of Minnesota, are being turned away from this program-- not even given the chance for an interview. They happen to be Caucasian women. Now let's say these same Caucasian women answer an essay question in a way that the committee sees as "closed-minded," how do they even stand a chance to get into our PUBLIC University?

I still have more to say on this, but I'm waiting for a response from the U. We're going on almost a week without any acknowledgement of my Public Data Request for committee members names and meeting minutes. Shouldn't this take about 10 minutes to send over? I wonder what valid rationale they have for the hold up.


Preppy 101 said...

I love it that you didn't let her intimidate you into just giving up, which is what they want. And you have your stats together. That is a beautiful thing to read. So basically what the applicants have to do is figure out what the committee wants to hear and just tell them what they want??? or else risk not getting in. The next statistic that needs to be monitored carefully is the percentage of for who are admitted and the percentage of against who are admitted. It appears to me they want a student body who attest to their beliefs so that there is no independent thinking in the nursing program that might question the ethics, morals, etc. of the admin. and faculty???? Am I crazy here?

Jim said...

Yep, Engineering undergrads are required to have a bunch of stuff beyond their core classes including understandable math and physics, but also liberal arts stuff. Forgive the ugly formatting:



















It's not as bad as it looks, since one class can kill a few requirements at a time. For example, the basic Chemistry class is both "environment" and "science with lab," and some funky Humanities class will be "additional arts and humanities" as well as "international perspective." However, when you consider the cost of tuition and the near-requirement of summer classes if you want to finish in four years, these extra liberal arts things are a bit of a drag. I suppose it helps improve your writing skills when you have to blabber on about how true communism hasn't been tried and could still work if it was given a proper shot.

Regarding the delay in them responding to you, it's summer and between sessions (summer school just started on Monday). They're probably out of town and when they finally get the gang together to discuss it, they'll have to decide if it's public information or internal minutes that they can choose not to share with trouble makers :)

Anyway, good work. Your original reporting is always interesting.

Mary said...

Great post.

Sounds like the U of M is running this program like the Miss USA Pageant.

Tow the PC line..."or else."

The real victim here are the qualified "leaders" who want to get into the program, are qualified to get into the program, and must 'fudge' their opinion to pass the litmus test.

To do so would be the antithesis of true leadership.

Sheila said...

The staff is there Jim and per MN Data Practices they must provide the info or cite state statute as to why they can't..they also must respond to my request w/i a reasonable time frame.

Jim said...

Well, I suppose they're enjoying the vague definition of "reasonable time."

Also, it sounds like Sieving is doing some research and might end up with an article titled "Responses of Nursing Students to Healthcare for Illegal... err... Undocumented Americans."

Jon said...

It's simple. Someone who objects to treating anyone because of the status of their documents should not be a nurse. It's just that for some reason, the nursing school and the University has chosen not to be blunt.