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Sinema gets thumbs down from students in petition to terminate her ASU contract

Students argue Kyrsten Sinema, who is an ASU lecturer, has violated the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics and should not be allowed to teach


Young voters are increasingly frustrated with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's policy positions. Illustration originally published Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.

Graduate students in ASU's School of Social Work have started a petition asking the University to terminate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's teaching contract.

The petition argues Sinema has violated the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics and shouldn't be a lecturer at the School of Social Work. Sinema currently teaches two graduate classes at the school: legal issues in social work and developing grants and fund raising.

According to The State Press salary database, Sinema is paid $26,860 a year as a University lecturer.

Breanna Wandrych and Sarah Lewis, graduate students studying social work, said they started the petition after letters and social media messages to the SSW administration regarding the issue didn't garner a response.

"We started looking at a petition as a way to more publicly present what's going on within the School of Social Work as it relates to Sen. Sinema as a professor as well as hopefully just to garner more attention and a response from the school itself," Wandrych said.

Wandrych cited section 6.04 of the NASW Code of Ethics when describing Sinema's violations, which states "Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully."

Wandrych said the NASW Code of Ethics is stricter than the code of ethics for most other professions, and are unique in that they encourage social workers to engage in political advocacy on behalf of the job and the people it serves.

Lewis, one co-creator of the petition, said it's the lack of communication with her constituents that has led social workers and social work students to lose faith in her.

"Difference of opinion is OK, we understand that politics are messy, and sometimes they can be manipulative and so it might look like you're doing one thing, but you're really trying to get something else accomplished," Lewis said. "But it's just that lack of clarity and communication, so we don't really know what you're thinking, all we have to go on is what it looks like. And it doesn't look good."

Nick Caruso, a licensed clinical social worker and a recently retired lecturer from SSW, who taught Sinema while she was pursuing her master's in social work at the school, signed the petition because of the code of ethics and the way it applies to professors, even if they are not licensed social workers.

"It's great that we have diversity in values and where we are politically on the spectrum, but to teach in the School of Social Work, I believe that one has to be a champion of our code of ethics in their actions," Caruso said. 

Sinema isn't the only senator currently working as a professor. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been teaching law at Harvard University since 1992, though no protests or petitions have been started to remove her from her position following congressional votes or other controversies.

However, Caruso said teaching social work is different from teaching law as a politician, as the code of ethics for the social work profession holds social workers to a much higher standard than other careers.

"As a politician, great, perhaps the College of Law is better," Caruso said. "I don't know what their code of ethics say on that, but ours are nonnegotiable and they're very clear that we teach by example."

Both Lewis and Wandrych opted not to take the classes taught by Sinema this semester because of her actions and how they could affect their education.

"It's not that I don't think that she has anything valuable to teach or that she's a poor educator, I don't know because I haven't taken her classes," Lewis said. "I'm sure that she does have a lot to offer, but the things that she's done with her career lately and the way that she's treating constituents, just doesn't represent social work values."

Wandrych also attributed Sinema's reaction to the recent bathroom confrontation at ASU as a concern among social work students about their education.

READ MORE: Sinema is betting on bipartisanship. Students aren't buying it

"It just circles back to how she's not making herself available to her constituents, she's not engaging in any kind of way," Wandrych said. "No one wants to meet their senator in the bathroom. That's not where we want to be having those conversations."

ASU's police department referred misdemeanor charges for four people to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office after students confronted and filmed Sinema in a campus bathroom in October. Wandrych and Lewis said social work students asked ASU PD not to press charges on behalf of the students at the school as they didn't feel unsafe after the confrontation.

READ MORE: ASU PD asks county attorney to charge protesters in Sinema case

Caruso said he has been in contact with Cynthia Lietz, the interim dean of the SSW, and Nancy Gonzales, the executive vice president and University provost at ASU, about Sinema's future with the University and was told she will still be welcome to continue teaching social work. The University declined to comment on the petition and Sinema's teaching contract.

"I don't anticipate that this will have any real consequence for her as far as the School of Social Work, but that's OK," Caruso said. "If we only entered these issues because we knew we would win, we wouldn't be getting back to the field of social work. It's a heavy lift, and it's a marathon, it's not a sprint."

Wandrych and Lewis still plan to present the petition to the SSW administration once it has reached 500 signatures, even if Sinema will be allowed to continue teaching at the University. As of Nov. 18, the petition has 484 signatures. Sen. Sinema and her office did not respond to requests for comment. 

"If nothing else, it's planting seeds and it's encouraging other social work students (and) other social workers to really consider where we're getting our information from, our education from, and holding our educators and school systems accountable," Wandrych said.

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Reagan PriestManaging Editor

Reagan Priest is a managing editor, overseeing and working with the six digital desks at The State Press. She previously worked as a social justice reporter for Cronkite News and as a digital production intern at The Arizona Republic.

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