Dismay over Syracuse Appointment of Dean


29 October 2005

We, the undersigned, are fully aware that Syracuse University and its School of Education do not depend on our approval for making administrative decisions. However, we also recognize the responsibilities of academic institutions in making leadership appointments in their departments, colleges, and schools of education. Now, as never before, research and training in education are being scrutinized and typically found culpable for the poor learning outcomes of many students. Selection of a dean, therefore, constitutes an important and very public signal of how seriously a university views its responsibilities towards public education. By selecting someone whose record constitutes an argument against rigorous science in research involving individuals with disabilities, Syracuse University has sent a public message of disregard for education that undermines not only its own standing among academic institutions but also, by negative example, threatens the credibility of all educators engaged in rigorous research addressing critical problems in teaching and learning.

In our opinion, it is essential that both individuals and institutions adhere to the highest standards of scientific rigor in their professional conduct. We therefore express our strong disapproval of the appointment of Douglas Biklen as Dean of Education at Syracuse University for reasons that we explain.

Since the early 1990s, Professor Biklen has persistently and, in our view inadvisably, promoted training in and the use of facilitated communication (FC), an ostensible means of communication that has been resoundingly and thoroughly discredited by many scientific studies. The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Association on Mental Retardation, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Association for Behavior Analysis, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the New York State Department of Health have all gone on record advising against the use of FC. Furthermore, the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health has expressed its criticism of Professor Biklen’s appointment, with which we concur.

As researchers and members of the teacher education communities in special education, we are deeply concerned by the harm to individuals with disabilities, their families, therapists, and teachers resulting from the use of FC. The harm to which we refer includes the false hopes, false accusations of abuse, wasted learning opportunities, and miseducation of teachers fostered by FC and training in its use.

Many controlled investigations by scientists who study communication, education, and mental health have led to a consensus that FC is, if not a hoax, an unreliable and discredited means of communication. We find it disturbing that Professor Biklen has ignored this evidence and continued to insist that the scientific studies revealing the illegitimacy of FC are themselves unreliable. Professor Biklen may have good intentions, but his unrelenting advocacy of FC in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that it typically results in counterfeit messages (produced unwittingly by the “facilitator”) does not serve the cause of science or of social justice or of individuals with disabilities. We wish to disassociate ourselves from the fraudulent claims of FC and the non-scientific methods used by Professor Biklen and his colleagues in their attempts to validate the technique.

Our statement is not based on ad hominem toward Professor Biklen. In our opinion, the decision of Syracuse University to appoint Professor Biklen as Dean of its School of Education brings discredit to the university precisely and solely because it reflects disrespect for educational and psychological research as well as teacher preparation, given Professor Biklen’s disregard for scientific evidence. Certainly, Professor Biklen is free to believe and teach whatever he wants. However, we believe that university administrators have a larger commitment to select as leaders of academic units, including education, those individuals who demonstrate a clear commitment to the principles of scientific research.

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60 thoughts on “Dismay over Syracuse Appointment of Dean”

  1. I strongly support this statement. Syracuse University should reconsider their appointment of Biklen as Dean. Furthermore, their support of the popularizer of a technique that has been repeatedly proven as bogus, in sound scientific studies, positions Syracuse University as a champion of pseudoscience.

    Bill Ahearn, Ph.D., BCBA
    Director of Research
    The New England Center for Children
    33 Turnpike Rd
    Southborough, MA 01772

  2. I strongly agree with this statement.
    Shannon Gormley, PhD
    Asst. Professor of Exceptional Education
    Buffalo State College
    Buffalo, NY

  3. I agree with this statement.
    Adel Najdowski, PhD, BCBA
    Research and Development Manager
    Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc.
    Tarzana, CA

  4. I support this statement without reservation.

    Anthony Cammilleri, Ph.D.
    Director of Education
    Child Study Center
    Fort Worth, TX

  5. I strongly endorse this statement.
    Dr. Diana Rogers-Adkinson
    Professor of Special Education
    University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

  6. I strongly support this statement.

    Rachel S. F. Tarbox, PhD
    Co-Director, Research & Development
    Center for Autism & Related Disorders, Inc.

  7. I completely agree with this statement.
    I am glad to see this initiative against some of these archaic practices.
    Richard Weavers, Ph.D.
    Visiting Professor
    University of Cheongju
    Republic of Korea

  8. I am in full agreement with this statement. Douglas Bilken is nothing less than an exceptional example of an irrational and dogmatic individual in a position of authority whose rejection of thoroughly validated evidence undermines the very intent of the position to which he has been appointed. The result is a disgrace to your university. I am appalled.

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