One of the reasons many students choose to attend graduate schools is their open-mindedness. There’s an understanding that these programs will accept many different points of view and facilitate discussion between them. It’s these positive qualities of academia that make recent events at Eastern Michigan University so troubling. An EMU student was recently dismissed from her graduate program because her personal beliefs clashed with the administration. And while the circumstances that led to her dismissal were certainly complicated, they amount to a serious disregard for academic freedom. In cases like these, universities should be wary that access to education must not become limited to only those students who subscribe to a certain ideological viewpoint.

Julea Ward, a graduate student in EMU’s Counseling program, was dismissed in March after she asked for a client in her practicum course to be reassigned to another counselor. Ward claimed that she did not feel comfortable advising the client because his sexual orientation went against her religious beliefs. After the client was reassigned, Ward’s advisor, Prof. Yvonne Calloway, claimed that she was violating the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, which states that no client should be discriminated against based on, among other things, sexual orientation.

Ward was then brought under review. A panel of professors questioned her on a number of other issues, including abortion and extra-marital sex, and she said she would still feel comfortable being able to discuss those issues with clients. The panel ruled that Ward was in violation of the code and the university dismissed her. On April 2, the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed suit against EMU on behalf of Ward, claiming that the university had violated Ward’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

It’s tough not to see Ward as the victim in this situation. Though her views on homosexuality are misinformed, backward and wrong, they are her personal views. Attempting to counsel the client in spite of these views would have been a disservice to the client, and referring him was the best course of action. This was in fact the course of action recommended by Calloway, who then turned around and charged Ward with a violation of the code.

It would appear that Calloway and the review panel dismissed Ward for no other reason than that they found her views distasteful and wanted to send a message. That’s a problem — because graduate programs should be places where different views are accepted, not purged. Though a counseling program may not be the best forum for ideological debate, this program should certainly not exclude people based on personal beliefs. After all, the best way to change Ward’s backward personal opinion on homosexuality is for her to come into contact with opposing viewpoints of other students at EMU.

Ironically, it’s EMU’s treatment of Ward — rather than Ward’s treatment of her client — that amounts to discrimination. If faculty and administrators are specifically targeting students for dismissal because of their personal beliefs, the educational system has squandered one of its most important features: tolerance for people who think differently.

Ward’s treatment is an example of the dangers of an academic climate that fails to tolerate different ideologies. In situations like this, everyone loses. Universities lose the ability to benefit from different viewpoints — no matter how radical — and education becomes something that is limited to a distinct type of person who holds certain beliefs.

For the sake of both academic freedom and ideological diversity in the classroom, cases like Ward’s can’t become the norm at universities.

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