The Social Work Story Develops

Key National Group Will Not Discuss NAS Social Work Report

Lawyer Demands Retraction

What’s Up with that "Key National Group"?

Dale Atkinson of Atkinson & Atkinson, a law firm representing The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), has sent the National Association of Scholars a letter demanding that we remove from our website an announcement posted last week saying that the ASWB plans to discuss the NAS Social Work report at its annual meeting. Mr. Atkinson's letter can be read here

We find this rather strange. If there was any inaccuracy last week in our brief posting, "Key National Group to Discuss NAS Social Work Report," why wouldn’t someone from the ASWB just call us up and point it out? Our posting itself was friendly to ASWB, and our conversation with an ASWB official before we posted the comment was amicable. What could possibly have prompted the ASWB to have had a pompous letter sent to us?

Well, be that as it may, Mr. Atkinson’s letter deserves close reading. On behalf of the ASWB, Mr. Atkinson denies the truth of our posting. What did the NAS allegedly get wrong? We asserted that the ASWB would discuss our report at its annual meeting. Mr. Atkinson declares "the ASWB annual meeting agenda does not include a discussion of the NAS Report." Fine. But we do admit some suspicion about these lawyerly formulations. We never said the NAS report was on the official "agenda," and it is of course possible that officials plan to introduce a topic of discussion not on that agenda. Are we being too suspicious?

Mr. Atkinson, with a superb lawyerly obliviousness to contradiction, denies that an ASWB official confirmed the story and demands to know the name of that official. ("Continuing, the website posting inaccurately notes an 'ASWB official confirmed' this agenda topic.”) There's that word "agenda" again. We stand by our original statement. An ASWB official did indeed confirm what we reported. Given what looks like ASWB's willingness to escalate anthills into Himalayas, we're reluctant to give the individual's name. We believe he was acting in good faith toward both the public and the ASWB in giving out this anodyne information.

But we will name the state official who originally told us by letter that ASWB planned to discuss the NAS Social Work report. That individual is Lawrence M. Reifurth, Director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs for the State of Hawaii. Mr. Reifurth wrote to us on October 5, saying, "It is my understanding that the ASWB received your letter and the NAS study, and plans to discuss this issue during their next administrator's forum, which will be held on November 9, 2007."

Mr. Atkinson, getting down to business, asserts that our posting is troublesome to ASWB because the topic of our report might be beyond "the mission and scope of services and programs" of the ASWB, and therefore somehow imperil its tax exempt status. Lawyerly boilerplate? Is this what counsel says when nothing else comes to mind? But, alas, let's take this seriously. Mr. Atkinson is telling us that the national body that represents state boards of social work may be running a serious risk to discuss a substantive report and a letter from NAS that was sent to nearly every state board and that brings to their attention allegations of widespread misfeasance in the profession? By Mr. Atkinson’s account, the risk lies in the possibility that NAS is a "special interest group" and is mixed up with "related ideological agendas."

This is rich. Mr. Atkinson, you may wish to study the matter further. The field of social work education is dominated by two special interest groups with pronounced ideological agendas. They are called the Council on Social Work Education and the National Association of Social Workers. The NAS has simply called for de-ideologizing social work education. It takes some mental summersaults to turn a call for getting rid of ideological litmus tests into an "ideology." But, we understand, Mr. Atkinson: you have to work with what you’ve got. On due reflection, however, we think ASWB would be irresponsible not to discuss the NAS Social Work report.

Along the same lines Mr. Atkinson offers a second reason why it would be inappropriate for ASWB to discuss the NAS report: "The ASWB annual meeting is not the forum for discussion of the ideological and political issues that are of concern to NAS." Frankly we’re not sure how this differs from the preceding argument, but Mr. Atkinson says it does, and we want to be thorough.

In fact, something has seriously spooked ASWB. We don’t know what that is, but an organization operating on an even keel doesn’t commission heavy-breathing letters from lawyers. Nor does it set the lawyers on fools' errands of demanding public retractions of statements that were made with good faith.

If ASWB now takes the position that it will not discuss the NAS Social Work report at its annual meeting, we are happy to report this fact. Mr. Atkinson asks that we remove "any reference that the ASWB annual meeting will or may address the NAS agenda." We have, in a spirit of reconciliation, taken down our previous posting, which, however, we believed to have been entirely accurate at the time it was posted. The ASWB may have internal disputes; it may have changed its mind; we don’t know. But we stand by our statement that as of last week, an official of the ASWB told us that ASWB planned to discuss our report at its annual meeting. We will add a detail: the same official, at our request, agreed to send us a summary of the discussion.

Mr. Atkinson, demands to know the name of this official. We see no reason to comply with this demand.

Mr. Atkinson threatens us with "pursuit of additional action" if we fail to comply. We don’t especially look forward to any more such correspondence, but if Mr. Atkinson wishes to continue this silliness, we are prepared. Mr. Atkinson might be advised, however, that we like transparency, and we wonder whether the publication of letters like the one we just received will be good for his law practice.

Peter Wood 

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