Students and Alumni Call for Social Work Dean’s Dismissal

Photo Credit: CUA Student Press Release

Sexual assault and fitness of character allegations have been raised against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in his bid to become the next lifetime appointee on the nation’s highest court. As a result,  conversations about due process, victim trauma, lack of reporting of rape and sexual assault allegations, binge drinking, and rape culture are happening in our schools, coffee shops, workplaces, and homes.

Professionals who are educated and trained in these areas have a responsibility to engage in thoughtful dialogue and help provide evidence-based data and information in order to prevent myths from cementing in the public sphere.

However, School of Social Work Dean William Rainford of Catholic University of America decided to exercise his power and influence by using a social media account representing the School of Social Service to provide his assessment of Julie Swetnek’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh.

This tweet among many others has earned Dean Rainford a suspension by the University. According to CUA student Tony Hain, Rainford issued a letter of apology “only after 45 graduate students walked out of classes Thursday in protest and after Rainford spent 24 hours defending and rationalizing his tweets on his @NCSSSDean Twitter account and dismissing faculty who raised direct concerns with him.”

SWHelper was provided with a letter from President Garvey who says he eventually plans to reinstate Rainford.  However, Hain asserts, “students, alumni and faculty have used appropriate channels to register concerns and complaints about him for years. Rainford continues to demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding for the field of social work that he is supposed to lead. He is out of touch with his students, alumni and professional practitioners in the field of social work.  The tweets were the final straw. He must resign or be dismissed immediately.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Dean Rainford has made negative headlines and angered students. In 2013, he unilaterally ended the University’s partnership with the National Association of Social Work (NASW) over their advocacy for women’s reproductive justice rights.

“In 2012, Catholic University of America joined a lawsuit with Wheaton College asserting the Affordable Care Act is a violation of the school’s religious liberty. During the conference call, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken and The Catholic University of America’s president John Garvey stressed their schools’ alignment on pro-life beliefs according to the Huffington Post.” For more information read full article.

Currently, 188 alumni of National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) have called for Rainford’s removal, which includes Social Work Helper contributor Cheryl Aguliar, LICSW, LCSW-C, Class of 2014.

Sarah Sorvalis, CUA Masters of Social Work Student Class of 2019, stated: “Dean Rainford is completely out of step with the NCSSS program. His comments violated every single one of the values that define the social work profession. This has unfortunately created an irreparable level of mistrust among students in my cohort.”

Sorvalis continues on a more positive note by stating, “There is a silver lining. Because of the stellar faculty and education we continue to receive, despite the Dean’s inability to be an effective and trusted leader, students have been taught how to organize and stand up to systemic injustices. In fact, these skills proved exceptionally helpful when coordinating our walk-out last week, as well as the student led protest on October 1st where we demanded Dean Rainford’s resignation.”

Although Dean Rainford has angered many students and alumni with his comments, he is not without supporters coming to his defense.

There is no doubt the country is divided into conservative and liberal camps. However, Dean Rainford’s tweets and past actions appear to be in service to his religious and conservative beliefs and not in service to students learning how to interact with the vulnerable populations our profession is tasked to serve. Social Work and social services are tasked with helping people in crisis and those affected by trauma.

We are mandated to remove our personal beliefs whether it be religious, political or any other kind from our interactions. We are tasked to provide information and assist people from all faiths, all nationalities and all backgrounds based on their needs, barriers, and challenges. If we can not set aside our personal beliefs to provide services, then we are mandated to refer them to someone who can assist them.

As a Dean of Social Work at a premier Catholic University, what message will this send to other victims who may find the strength to come forward in their Adulthood?

Social Work School Separates from National Association of Social Work

Catholic University of America’s (CUA) National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) has long been a well-respected social work program, with the Gourman Report placing it in the top 11%. Its web site states: “Our commitment to supporting traditional social work values while responding to today’s educational and practice developments continues to make ours a highly regarded program both within the academic world and the practice community.”

CUA_campus_1
Catholic University of America

Despite this statement, NCSSS’s new dean,Will C. Rainford, LMSW, Ph.D. announced in October that the school was severing ties with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest membership organization of social workers in America, basing his decision on what he referred to on Twitter as an “overt public policy position that social workers should advocate for access to abortion.”

A Google search for NASW + abortion brought up two hits; arguably a less than overt position. The announcement was made without either informing/meeting with students and/or alumni to discuss the implications of this step. Confusion regarding concerns such as accreditation has inevitably ensued.

It is unclear what prompted this action since NASW issued their Family Planning and Reproductive Health policy statement in 2006: “Self-determination means that without government interference, people can make their own decisions about sexuality and reproduction. It requires working toward safe, legal, and accessible reproductive health care services, including abortion services, for everyone.”

The press release on NCSSS’s web site boasts that its newest Dean was NASW-Idaho Social Worker of the Year with his CV adding that he also served as a member of the same chapter’s Legislative Advocacy Committee between 2005 and 2007. Given Dean Rainford’s previous affiliation with NASW it is hard to believe that he was not previously familiar with the 2006 policy statement, making his stated motivation for NCSSS’s resignation from the organization questionable.

Dr. Frederick Reamer, a highly respected professor of ethics at NCSSS, wrote in Social Work Values and Ethics that NASW is not a pro-abortion organization; rather it is a pro-choice organization (2006). The NASW Code of Ethics does not directly address abortion; rather it states that social workers have an obligation to foster self-determination. However, Reamer writes that the Code of Ethics does state that social workers should refer clients to other professionals when they are not able to provide assistance or be effective.

It is difficult to understate the significance of this membership organization and the state chapters within the social work profession. The NASW Code of Ethics, sacred to the practice of social work, is integrated into educational curriculums. It helps practitioners learn the difference between right and wrong as well as to help them apply that understanding. NASW adjudicates when social workers violate this code and applies sanctions when necessary. Although state licensing boards do not require membership in NASW, they do require adherence to the NASW Code of Ethics. An education that excludes this code clearly puts future practitioners at a disadvantage.

NASW also accredits CEUs; an annual necessity for licensed social workers. NCSSS itself offers CEU workshops throughout the year and it is unclear what impact no longer being affiliated with NASW will have on these continued education opportunities. Discounted CEU workshops have also traditionally acted as an incentive for field instructors to take on students in field placements and if discontinued may impact the field placements NCSSS is able offer.

To understand the motivation behind seceding, the school of social work must be placed within the context of CUA as a whole. CUA isn’t the average regularly religiously affiliated school, it is a pontifical university established and approved by the Holy See and governed by the Pope. It was established in 1889 with the mission of the instruction of Catholicism and human nature with the goal of furthering strengthening the Church via scientific and humanistic research as informed by the Catholic faith. Since 1889, tremendous advances have been made in science contributing to mankind’s understanding of both reproduction and the prevention of disease including the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The intrinsic humanistic benefits of this progress have been ignored by a Church still dwelling in an era with a primarily agrarian economy and high infant mortality rates.

With this decision, Dean Rainford has shown not only poor judgment but poor timing as well. Pope Francis has reinvigorated many who felt the Catholic Church was no longer relevant, recently writing that the church has grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, putting dogma before love. Although remaining pro-life, Pope Francis has conceded that the church has done little to help women who were in need of it. However, the Vatican also recently distributed a survey designed to assess the difficulty of practicing the church’s preachings in a modern world, asking Catholics about their use of contraceptives, feelings on homosexuality, and divorce. This is remarkably progressive for the church and while it has taken a step forward, NCSSS has simultaneously taken a large one back.

Dean Rainford has also potentially tarnished the high regard in which the program has been held by assigning it more of a religious mission and less of a social service one. Religious schools are not legally required to be accredited. Lack of accreditation has typically been associated with schools that award degrees with little to no coursework to any “student” who can pay the price. Should NCSSS slide down this path, it is sure to devalue the substantial financial investment associated with getting a Master’s degree.

The process of NCSSS’s resignation from NASW can be seen as a metaphor for the arguments over reproductive rights. Those who hold the power (the administration at NCSSS), have made an important decision on behalf of those do not (the student body). Self-determination, so prioritized in this field, has been ignored by the administration at NCSSS. As Dr. Reamer wrote, if a practitioner is unable to assist a client, they should make an appropriate referral and excuse themselves.

University Decision to End Partnership over Reproductive Rights May Have Bigger Implications

Dean Will Rainford
Dean Will Rainford

In a recent decision, School of Social Work Dean, William C. Rainford, at Catholic University of America (CUA) issued a statement ending a long-standing partnership with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) because of its support for women’s reproductive rights.

According to the university’s website, Dean Rainford was appointed to lead the School of Social Work in June 2013, and his biographical information states that he is nationally recognized as a social justice advocate. This major change in University policy comes less than three months after Dean Rainford’s appointment.

Many social work students have taken to twitter to express their outrage for the decision. However, an on campus student social work group, NCSSS Action, reached out to the Chronicle of Social Change to go on record about their opposition to the new policy. According to the group’s organizer Andy Bowen,

“The other students and I are still coalescing around strategy and action, but we won’t go quietly into the night here,” said NCSSS Action organizer Andy Bowen, in an e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change. Will Rainford, who in April of 2013 was named dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS), informed students in a recent letter that he will “no longer allow NCSSS to officially partner or collaborate with NASW.” The reason, he said, is “based solely on NASW’s overt public position that social workers should advocate for access to abortions.” Read More

The timing of this decision is surprising especially when NASW has been on record about its support for reproductive rights as early as 2004. According to the NASW website in its activities, projects, and research section, it states:

  • Healthy Families, Strong Communities is an NASW project funded by the United Nations Foundation to engage the U.S. and the broader international community in the strengthening of maternal health and reproductive health.
  • Human Rights Update on Social Workers Addressing the Rights of Women and Girls Worldwide through MDG5 (10/8/2010 pdf)
  • NASW Policy Statement on Family Planning and Reproductive Health – appears in Social Work Speaks, a compilation of over 60 NASW policy statements on social work-related issues.
  • Female Genital Cutting – an NASW research page focusing on the practice of female genital cutting, otherwise referred to as female genital mutilation or female circumcision.
  • March for Women’s Lives – a 2004 rally co-sponsored by NASW for women’s reproductive rights.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, women’s reproductive rights have been an area of contention for conservative and religious groups. In several Red States, such as Texas and North Carolina, Republican led legislatures have begun passing some of the most restrictive laws limiting women’s reproductive rights and women’s ability to gain access to preventative care.

In 2012, Catholic University of America joined a lawsuit with Wheaton College asserting the Affordable Care Act is a violation of the school’s religious liberty. During the conference call, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken and The Catholic University of America’s president John Garvey stressed their schools’ alignment on pro-life beliefs according to the Huffington Post.

This major policy shift by the university’s School of Social Work does not align with the mission and values of a social work education. The role of a social worker is to help a client who is in crisis or help them improve their outcomes through intervention. As a social worker, if you can not set aside your personal beliefs to provide a client all necessary information to make an informed decision, you are ethically obligated to refer them to someone who can.

If the logic of this university is accepted and applicable to make policy decisions based on religious beliefs, what prevents it from teaching future social workers the tenets modeled as it relates to members of the LGBT community or women seeking health care advice? What prevents any religion from making policy decisions based on ideology to be enforced on a minority group? In my opinion, CUA’s shift in policy is in direct conflict with the Council for Social Work Education’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). If institutions are modelling practices and instituting policies in violation of accreditation standards, should the institution retain its accreditation?

In EPAS section 2.1.4, Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice states:

Social workers appreciate that, as a consequence of difference, a person’s life experiences may include oppression, poverty, marginalization, and alienation as well as privilege, power, and acclaim. Social workers

  •  recognize the extent to which a culture’s structures and values may oppress, marginalize, alienate, or create or enhance privilege and power;
  • gain sufficient self-awareness to eliminate the influence of personal biases and values in working with diverse groups;
  • recognize and communicate their understanding of the importance of difference in shaping life experiences; and
  • view themselves as learners and engage those with whom they work as informants.

The website for the commission and board who oversees the accreditation for schools of social work can be found at http://www.cswe.org/About/governance/CommissionsCouncils/CommissiononAccreditation.aspx. Additionally, if any students at CUA would like to be interviewed, I can be reached at deona@socialworkhelper.com or at @swhelpercom.

You can view all of the Council for Social Work Education’s educational policies and accreditation standards as adopted here.

 

Cover Photo: Courtesy of Catholic News Agency

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