In The News
Lewis, F. 1999. "Drinking Problem." Philadelphia City Paper, November 4
(picture of Dr. Schaler)
Anti AA: Dr. Jeffrey Schaler believes his controversial opinions regarding Alcoholics Anoymous rubbed some at Chestnut Hill College the wrong way.
A psychology professor says Chestnut Hill College dropped him over his views on addiction and AA.
by Frank Lewis
The resistance to his views isn't what confuses Dr. Jeffrey Schaler. He's long since learned that if you tell enough people that addiction is a choice, not a disease, or that Alcoholics Anonymous bears more than passing resemblance to a cult, then sooner or later someone is going to get upset. What confuses him about not being asked to return to Chestnut Hill College is that his students, whether they agreed with his views or not, seemed to believe he was a good teacher.
But apparently that wasn't enough. After two semesters as an adjunct professor in the college's department of professional psychology, Schaler was not asked to return this year. He says it's because his teachings on addiction contradict the "politically correct" model of addiction as disease, and that the risk of offending even a small number of students or colleagues was too great for the school.
"Theoretically [professors are] protected by academic freedom," says Schaler, who's now teaching at American University's School of Public Affairs, in Silver Spring, MD. "But really you have no protection as a part-timer. They just let you go."
Schaler says he was let go after one other professor expressed deep concern over his teachings. To some, Schaler says, the theories he teaches - supported by peer-reviewed articles - are nothing more than "heretical ideas."
"Theoretically [professors are] protected by academic freedom," says Jeffrey Schaler. "But really you have no protection as a part-timer. They just let you go."
Schaler says his views shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. According to a chronology laid out on his web site, he was asked in June 1997 to teach in CHC's graduate program in psychology by the department chairman, Dr. Scott Browning. At Browning's request, Schaler met with him and presented materials on his background. His curriculum vitae included a web site he created, the Thomas S. Szasz Cybercenter for Liberty and Responsibility (www.szasz.com/); Szasz, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, wrote The Myth of Mental Illness and hundreds of other books and articles related to the supposed fallacy of considering mental illness a disease.
Schaler's Szasz site includes the following summation from Schaler: "Liberty and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. No policy - public or private - can increase or decrease one without increasing or decreasing the other. Human behavior has reasons, not causes."
Schaler's c.v. also mentions his many appearances on DebatesDebates, a PBS show, arguing, in two cases, against the notion that depression is a disease and for abolishment of the insanity defense. It also states his affiliations with Smart Recovery, Rational Recovery and Moderation Management - alternatives to Alcoholic Anonymous that reject the notion that problem drinking or drug use can be managed only through complete abstinence and faith in "a Power greater than ourselves" (from one of AA's 12 steps).
Presumably knowing all of this, Browning asked Schaler to teach a course for the fall '97 semester, "Spirituality of the 12 Steps." The syllabus he created included the following: "We will learn about why an increasing number of people around the country dislike and criticize the spirituality of AA."
Later, he was asked to teach "Foundations of Addictive Behavior" in the spring 1998 semester, and "Introduction to Graduate Counseling Psychology" in the summer.
In June 1998, Schaler says he e-mailed a fellow CHC professor he'd never met, Dr. Thomas Klee, in response to an invitation on Klee's personal web site, which asks users to suggest possible links. Schaler introduced himself and suggested a link to the Szasz site.
In his reply (which Schaler posted on his web site), Klee wrote: "ƒI must let you know I was deeply offended at your connection between Chestnut Hill College and your political beliefs about Szasz. You are, of course, entitled to your beliefs as well as your right to send them out through cyberspace. My best wishes in that effort. However, any link to Chestnut Hill College is inappropriate.
"The Department of Professional Psychology at Chestnut Hill College is on record with a specific theoretical orientation. This is our public position and any implied connection between Chestnut Hill College and orientations that directly oppose our stated orientation are confusing and misleading to the public."
Klee did not respond to City Paper's requests for comment.
After several testy e-mail exchanges with Klee, Schaler requested a meeting with Browning. Schaler says Browning told him he wouldn't be teaching "Spirituality of the 12 Steps" again; in a follow-up letter to Browning, also posted online, Schaler wrote: "Since I taught this course for you last fall using some of the most erudite interdisciplinary resources available ƒ all of which I shared with you, it is clear now that the only reason you are not rehiring me to teach that course is because of my personal views/opinion of Alcoholics Anonymous.ƒ Apparently, a professor at Chestnut Hill College must believe the philosophy and doctrine of Alcoholics Anonymous are true - over and above any peer-reviewed academic materials to the contrary - in order to be rehired."
Schaler then wrote a nearly identical paragraph dealing with his not being asked to teach "Foundations of Addictive Behavior," in this case, he claims, because of his views on mental illness and relationship with Szasz. He further noted that Browning admitted that he didn't want Schaler's name to appear on the course schedule "because Professor Klee would be upset by this."
Browning declined a request for an interview. A Chestnut Hill College spokeswoman also refused to comment.
Schaler went on to accuse Browning of cowardice, for apparently avoiding him while lining up other instructors for his courses. He also promised both a complaint to the American Association of University Professors - no small matter for a college seeking accreditation from the American Psychological Association, as CHC is - and a discussion of academic freedom on DebatesDebates, using his experience at CHC as the conversation starter.
Schaler requested a meeting with an administrator. After what Schaler considered a cordial and productive discussion, he received a letter that included an apology for "the inconvenience which may have resulted" and a promise that the college would "establish procedures which will curtail the recurrence of such a situation."
Satisfied, Schaler withdrew the complaint he'd lodged with the AAUP. But nothing changed. He was not asked to teach another course. On his web site, Schaler calls it todschweigen - German for "death by silence."
This isn't unusual, according to a 1997 U.S. News cover story: "ƒ [I]n the United States, researchers and counselors who have championed - or even tried to investigate - moderation as a treatment strategy have been threatened, sometimes fired. 'We've been accused of murder. That we're all in denial. That we're enablers,' says Alan Marlatt." Marlatt, the director of the University of Washington's Addictive Behaviors Research Center, is identified as "a professor of psychology and moderate-drinking proponent."
Earlier this year, Schaler received the student evaluation he'd been requesting for some time. Nearly all students, he says, gave him high marks. The position papers he required students to write at the end of the course - which he shared with City Paper - show that most students felt they'd learned something, even if they weren't entirely sold. ("I no longer believe that 12-step programs are the only answer for treatment.ƒ However, I wouldn't discard the 12-step concept completely as it is a good match for some." "It no longer makes sense to me to view substance abuse as a disease in the way that most mental health professionals view it." "By looking at the scientific evidence about the disease model and the concept of 'loss of control,' I finally realized the concept I have taken for granted as a lay person is unfounded.")
"To me," says Schaler, "a good academic environment is going to look at these ideas and evaluate them. That's what we did [in the courses], and that's what caused so much trouble."
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