Introduction: The Arena of Gatekeeping
Patty Gibbs and Harry J. Macy
In social work education, selective evaluation, screening, and retention of students are decision arenas in which students' rights and interests, faculty's respons ibilities, program integrity, institutional policies, professional practice standards, social work's ethical principles, and the legal requirements of higher education converge. Few program operations are viewed as more complex, troublesome, and emotionally charged than the gatekeeping component of the educational enterprise. And few program operations are imbued with more mystery and misunderstanding.
Even the term gatekeeping invokes different notions in the minds of those who are responsible for the evaluation, selection, and retention of students. Some see gatekeeping as a process whereby students are nurtured through the educational enterprise in order to ensure that they successfully complete the program and are competent to practice when they graduate. Others think of gatekeeping as primarily a way to selectively “close the gate” at some point in a student's program when she or he is found to be unsuitable for practice in the field of social work, and a student might be seen as unsuitable for any number of reasons related to the inability to function within the parameters of professional expectations.
Those who see gatekeeping as a nurturing process, a perspective based on the students' strengths, are generally uncomfortable with a gatekeeping mentality that ostensibly centers on the need “to