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Report of the Task Force Summary

Cults and Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001

Report of the Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult:  Activities on Public Senior Higher Education Institutions 

To:

Hon. Parris N. Glendening

Governor of Maryland
State House
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Hon. Thomas V. Mike Miller

President, Senate of Maryland
State House
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Hon. Casper R. Taylor, Jr. 

Speaker, Maryland House of Delegates
State House
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

The Maryland Department of Legislative Support Services

Legislative Services Building
90 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland 21401


FROM:

William T. Wood, Esquire, Chair  

Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr., Ms. Araceli G. Carrigan,  Ms. Maitland W. Dade, Staff, Del. Sharon Grosfeld, Ms. Nina Hopkins, Mr. Warren Kelley, Dr. Eric P. Kafka, Ms. Joan Marionni, Ms. Sowmya Murthy, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Ms. Patricia Rausch, Mr. Andrew A. Rittler, Sen. Ida Ruben, Hon. Charles B. Saunders, Jr., Ms. Roberta J. Thomas (resigned June 7, 1999), Mr. Franz C. Wilson  

This Executive Summary summarizes the content of the Report of the Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education Institutions including findings of fact and recommendations. This Executive Summary provides a basic outline to orient the reader to the activities of the Task Force. It is recommended that the full Report be read by all interested parties for a full and complete understanding of the work product of the Task Force. 

Joint House Resolution 22 established this Task Force. The Task Force adopted a Mission Statement which is as follows:

To determine the extent to which there are groups whose activities on the campuses of USM institutions, St. Mary's College, or Morgan State University are, intentionally or innocently, inappropriately:

  •  causing demonstrable physical, psychological or emotional harm to students;
  • interfering substantially with the educational mission of the institution and/or
  • violating institutional policies and/or federal, state or local laws  

and to make recommendations concerning courses of action that might be pursued by individuals or institutions to assist in the prevention and/or resolution of those problems.

Thereafter, the Task Force met 11 times from May 25, 1999 through September 15, 1999 at various locations. The Task Force heard testimony from 56 witnesses and received 91 documents into evidence during the proceedings. All proceedings were recorded on audiotape. The tapes and all exhibits are on file at the Maryland General Assembly Library and Information Services, 90 State Circle, Annapolis, Maryland 21401 and may be reviewed in conformity with applicable policy.

The Task Force examined the legislative intent behind the drafting of JHR 22 after hearing from a member of the General Assembly of Maryland who is also a Task Force member and who was very involved in the legislative process. It was determined that the Mission Statement noted above fully and completely complied with the legislative intent of JHR 22. The Task Force decided not to attempt to define the word "cult" mentioned in JHR 22. The focus from the inception was determined to be whether any groups, irrespective of type or nature, are causing harm to students, parents, faculty or administration, and if so, what recommendations, if any, should be made by the Task Force.

The Task Force reviewed the requirements of the Maryland Open Meetings Act and adopted Roberts Rules of Order regarding conduct of the meetings. The Task Force also established an "open forum" to be a part of all Task Force meetings. Although not required by the Open Meetings Act, the Task Force created a one-hour segment at all Task Force meetings for all interested persons to address the Task Force, so long as their testimony is "reasonable and relevant" in order to allow the public to participate in the process. It was also determined all proceedings would be open to the public, whether required by the Open Meetings Act or not.

The Office of the Attorney General for the State of Maryland briefed the Task Force on the requirements of law with respect to all aspects of the Task Force business. The Attorney General also briefed the Task Force, as did other expert professionals, regarding relevant U.S. Supreme Court cases pertaining to constitutional freedoms and liberties. The Attorney General advised the Task Force that individuals wishing to give anonymous testimony could lawfully do so by speaker phone or in person concealed behind a screen. However, no speaker chose either of these options.

At the conclusion of the meetings, the Task Force voted to circulate the proposed report to all USM Presidents and Chancellor Langenberg for review and written comments before the final report was issued. The reviews have taken place, written comments were considered and the Task Force has made the following:

Findings of Fact

  1. The complexity of the problem is enormous, for example, there is conflict in terminology, many divergent views, constitutional issues and in some instances, the intervention can exacerbate the problem.
  2. The extent of group activities causing harm is statistically very small when considering the enormous number of students attending USM institutions, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College. This is based upon a wide range of group activities causing harm reported from these institutions varying from no problems to some problems. However, when interaction with a group causes harm to a student, that harm can be very severe.
  3. There are a wide variety of groups involved on USM campuses, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College. Recruitment and approaches by all types of groups are a cannon place occurrence.  
  4. Group activities can escalate into a problem, for example, recruitment can lead to inappropriate immersion into the group.  
  5. Constitutional issues are extremely important, including freedom of religion, speech and assembly.
  6. The level of group activities on campus is known to students but is known to a much lesser degree by administrators.  
  7. Resources on the campuses are not always fully prepared or known to students or parents.
  8. Education is the most promising solution to prevent harm to students.  

Based upon these findings, the Task Force makes the following:        

Recommendations  

  1. Commend the University of Maryland, College Park administration for developing an effective training program for Resident Assistants and recommend that other institutions with reported problems consider using its program and materials as a model.
  2. Require USM institutions, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College to assess the training needed for heightened institutional awareness of potential problems of destructive groups. Each institution should have the responsibility and the authority to determine the definition of harm relevant to the activities of such groups. The Task Force wishes to emphasis that this recommendation is for each institution to assess its training needs. There should also be a regular forum for interested members of each campus community (advisors, counselors, residential staff and chaplains, etc.) to exchange information relating to student complaints about outside groups.  
  3. Policies for Resident Assistants and campus professionals regarding the recruitment of students and the consequences for violations of said policies should be clear. A summary of Resident Assistants responsibilities should be posted in dormitories together with a mechanism for reporting complaints.
  4. Each institution should create and maintain a concise description of resources with office titles and telephone numbers and make them widely known and available on campus for students with problems regarding interaction with groups.  
  5. Provide a central resource on each USM campus, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College to accumulate complaints concerning group activities or actions and make the information available to students, parents, faculty and administration. Groups who are identified in such complaints should be named and clearly identified so concerned persons may evaluate the complaints themselves following their own individual standards. This entire program should be evaluated to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and institution policies. The Attorney General's Office should provide general guidance and be consulted on specific applications of this provision.  
  6. On each campus, the Office of Student Affairs, or its equivalent, should issue an annual report documenting complaints received and actions taken, if any, taking into consideration the information received from these central resources. This report should be in the form of a summary of the number and nature of complaints and the reader referred to the central resource for remaining information available. The Attorney General's Office should provide general guidance and be consulted on specific applications of this provision.  
  7. The Board of Regents and governing boards of Morgan State University and St. Mary's College should review institutional policies dealing with access to campuses from outside groups to determine if they should be strengthened.  
  8. Require registration and clear guidelines for any and all groups not sponsored by an institutional agency or program coming onto campus involving themselves with students at USM institutions, Morgan State University and St. Mary's College.
  9. Create an educational program for incoming students and ongoing education programs thereafter through graduation as necessary to assist students in assessing their decisions whether to join groups and how to recognize destructive behavior that may be affecting them. In connection with this recommendation, the Task Force wishes to help students make informed choices in their decisions to participate in groups or activities. In the review of available literature, the following list of behavior characteristics were found to be often repeated. The Task Force cannot speak to the validity of these characteristics. They are simply offered as suggestions an individual may wish to keep in mind when considering involvement with a group. These characteristics are: Deception, Isolation and Alienation from Family, Time Commitment, Financial Commitment, Elimination of Competing Pursuits and Priorities, Manipulation, Harassment, Abandon Educational and/or Career Goals, Surrender of Personal Authority, Absolute Obedience to Leaders, Retention Techniques, Physical and/or Emotional Abuse, Exploitation, and Blackmail.  
  10. Require that each institution assess its own resources to satisfy these recommendations and seek outside expertise on how to implement these recommendations where necessary.  
  11. Request that the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland and the governing boards of Morgan State University and St. Mary's College each establish a policy to follow up to ensure that these recommendations are implemented and periodically monitored for compliance. This policy should include the establishment of one advisory committee for these institutions to verify compliance with these recommendations. The Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland and the governing boards of Morgan State University and St. Mary's College should appoint this advisory committee and every effort should be made to appoint persons who have knowledge of the subject matter. This advisory committee should not attempt to direct or control institutional compliance, but instead, should advise each institution of any departure(s) from these recommendations and, where necessary, communicate such concerns to the institution's governing board.  

A  complete outline of all Task Force activities may be referenced by reading the full body of the Report of the Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education Institutions. Minutes of the meetings and all exhibits and recorded testimony of all witnesses are available for review and inspection as stated above.

It is noted that, at its September 15, 1999 meeting, the Task force agreed that its work was concluded and voted to forward its Report and Executive Summary to the Governor, the President of the Maryland Senate, the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland Department of Legislative Services to fulfill the mandate of JHR 22. All exhibits and other documentation related to Task Force deliberations have been forwarded with the Report and Executive Summary to the Maryland General Assembly Library.                                     

Respectfully submitted,

 William T. Wood, Esq.

Chairman