Fear and loathing at Smith

Is racism infecting the operations of the graduate social work program at Smith College, or has the leafy campus in left-leaning Northampton become the latest flash point for overblown charges that are chilling free speech at institutions that are supposed to be havens of healthy debate and exchanges of views?

The controversy brewing at Smith centers on two letters from faculty members to the school’s administration, which were recently leaked, that students say betray racist messages. One letter was written by social work professor Dennis Miehls, the other was from an anonymous group of adjunct faculty.

Miehls, whose letter went to the dean of the social work program, Marianne Yoshioka, criticized the school’s attempts to diversify its student body by admitting students “who do not have a reasonable chance of success in our program.” Miehls goes on, however, to suggest that the program’s admissions policies are accepting too many unqualified students of all backgrounds. “Why do you, as administrators, continue to offer differential outcomes to students of color, in spite of overwhelming data that demonstrates that many of our students, including white-identified students, cannot offer clients a social work intervention that is based upon competence, skills, and ethics,” he writes.

The letter from adjunct faculty, which was sent to the college’s president, Kathleen McCartney, conveyed a similar message. “What many people are thinking but afraid to say is that when students are admitted who do not have the academic qualifications to do well enough in a rigorous, demanding, stressful program … these students are being set up for failure particularly when we do not provide adequate support of all types as they pass through the program,” it read. “There is clearly something terribly faulty with the admission policy when scores of students develop, from the very start, serious problems in both their academic performance and their field experience.”

The Boston Globe reported that students held a rally, sit-in, and march last week in protest.

In a story earlier this month in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, some students suggested they were being penalized for their political views. One student, Susana Gomez, complained that her work had been criticized for trying to work with clients in an “anti-oppressive.” way, and that the school did not support her wish to approach social work in a way that isn’t “oppressive and redactive.”

Miehls, in his letter, seems to hint at frustration with just that sort of thinking. “We are supposed to be training students to be clinicians who are serving the needs of clients — in contrast to serving their own needs,” he says.

The Globe weighs in today with an editorial on the dispute over the school’s approach to social work training. “Not every dispute warrants a social-justice crusade,” the paper says. The paper says there are lots of legitimate and important conversations on race taking place across the country. “In some instances, though, students caught up in the fervor of campus activism are reading oppression into innocuous situations, such as a Yale residential administrator’s suggestion that students not take boorish Halloween costumes too seriously. The letters at Smith raise the latter possibility.”

“When every disagreement turns ideological, and when people with even slightly dissenting opinions are wary of speaking up, universities don’t just suffer intellectually,” the paper continues.”They also stop functioning as institutions, because disagreements and problems can only get worse when people don’t talk about them.”

–MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

The number of children in foster homes is up 10 percent since Gov. Charlie Baker took office, straining the capacity of the long-troubled Department of Children and Families which he has vowed to reform. (Boston Herald)

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg sees a middle ground on taxing nonprofits. (Lowell Sun)

Janet Goldenberg and Sheila Decter of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence applaud Attorney General Maura Healey’s stance on copycat assault weapons. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Milton Board of Assessors says it will reassess Sen. Brian Joyce’s home, but the three members say the lawmaker has done nothing wrong. One member condemns a Boston Globe story suggesting Joyce shortchanged the municipality on property taxes. (CommonWealth) The Patriot Ledger reports that the Board of Assessors is skeptical of the Globe story. The Globe didn’t cover the board meeting.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A powerful earthquake hit Italy, killing dozens and demolishing a town in the central part of the country and could be felt as far away as Rome, more than 100 miles to the south. (New York Times)

Scott Brown is strongly denying charges made by former Fox News host Andrea Tantaro that he made sexually inappropriate comments on the set of her show and later touched her waist. (Boston Globe)

President Obama, fresh off vacation, toured the flood-ravaged areas of Louisiana and took a swipe at Donald Trump, saying the disaster is “not a photo-op issue.” (U.S. News & World Report)

Sen. Bernie Sanders new political organization Our Revolution is scheduled to launch Wednesday but there’s already turmoil as eight core staffers quit amid concerns over leadership and fundraising. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

John Fresolo’s bid to run for his old Worcester seat on the ticket of the United Independent Party is raising eyebrows on Beacon Hill and the ire of Evan Falchuk, the head of the party. (Telegram & Gazette)

Some black activists in Boston say there needs to be a black challenger next year to Mayor Marty Walsh. (Boston Herald)

Donald Trump indicates he is willing to soften his position on immigration. (Time)

Rolling Stone suggests Curt Schilling is the next Trump (and that’s not a compliment).

Hillary Clinton is leaving Trump in the dust when it comes to fundraising among Massachusetts donors. (Boston Globe)

Democrat Lawrence DiCara and Republican Patrick Reynolds say there is no gallant candidate riding in on a horse in this year’s presidential race. (CommonWealth)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The foreclosure crisis worsens in Massachusetts, and some are saying the state should be doing more. (Masslive)

Mayors from coastal communities band together to blast a plan by the Obama administration to create “marine monuments.” a move the mayors say will further damage the reeling fishing industry. (Standard-Times)

Rhode Island officials have reached an agreement with two financial backers of former Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s defunct 38 Studios to be pay the state $25.6 million from a $75 million loan guarantee made to lure Schilling to the Ocean State. (Associated Press)

Hingham-based Wahlburgers, owned by actor Mark Wahlberg and family members, is facing a class action suit by servers and bartenders who say they were paid less than minimum wage but their tips were kept and shared with staff who earn the minimum wage. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

The California Supreme Court, on a 4-3 vote, refused to hear an appeal in Vergara v. California. The action means teacher tenure and other job protections in California schools are safe. (Governing) CommonWealth spoke last year with David Welch, the Silicon Valley CEO behind the challenge to the state tenure laws.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at private universities who carry out research and help teach classes have the right to unionize. (STAT)

The Brockton area NAACP charged that school superintendent Kathleen Smith is not doing enough to hire people of color but Smith defended her record, saying not enough minorities have applied for jobs as educators in the system. (The Enterprise)

Renovations for a new charter school in Brockton were shut down because officials said the school did not have the necessary building permits. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Reported medical errors in Massachusetts were up sharply last year, with much of the increase driven by mistakes made at a dialysis unit at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

Reports of rat sightings in Upper Cape towns have risen dramatically, due mainly, officials say, to an increase in food from more people feeding birds and a reduction in natural predators. (Cape Cod Times)

TRANSPORTATION

A Herald editorial says everyone should take a chill pill over privacy concerns raised by the new Mass. Pike gantries that will record the license plate of cars passing under them.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

More well contamination is discovered near the Southbridge landfill. (Telegram & Gazette)

CASINOS

Steve Wynn doubles down on the slumping Macau market, opening a lavish $4.1 billion casino/hotel that features hundreds of millions of dollars in artwork and other special features but fewer gambling tables than he wanted. (CNBC) Wynn said his Wynn Palace is arguably the most beautiful hotel in the world. “It’s perhaps unlikely we’ll see a place of this scope and artfulness in our lifetimes again,” he said. (Gambling Insider) Hey, what about Everett?

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

One hundred Boston police officers begin training today to use body-worn cameras as part of a city pilot program testing use of the technology. (Boston Globe)

A convicted rapist who had been out of prison for only a few months is under arrest and charged with a sexual assault that took place earlier this week in Boston’s South End. (Boston Globe)

Millis officials are planning to adopt many of the recommendations from a 42-page “after action” report that comes nearly a year after a rookie police officer admitted he fired three bullets into his cruiser and called in a bomb threat to school and later committed suicide. (MetroWest Daily News)

MEDIA

The FBI is investigating cyber hacks of New York Times reporters. (CNN)

Dan Kennedy celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Internet, which he says has evolved from a place we visited to one where we live. (WGBH)