Brandeis professor under fire for description of racial epithet

January 24, 2008

A longtime Brandeis University professor says he has been the victim of “vindictive persecution” by school administrators after he was found in violation of the university’s nondiscrimination policy for describing a racist word in one of his classes.

Politics professor Donald Hindley, who has taught at the Waltham school for 47 years, had a monitor placed in his classroom and was asked to undergo sensitivity training after he told students in his Latin American politics class last semester that Mexican migrants are sometimes referred to pejoratively as “wetbacks,” according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which is aiding his case.

A student complained to the administration, according to the foundation, which in October found that Hindley had made “statements in class that were inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory.”

Hindley also received a letter from Provost Marty Krauss in which he was threatened with termination and told a monitor would observe his classes until Krauss determined he was “able to conduct (himself) appropriately in the classroom.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education claims that Hindley’s free speech rights were violated and his academic freedom was encroached.

Hindley, when reached at his office Thursday, claims he was never told the nature of the complaint against him and was never given the chance to defend himself. But according to the foundation, he told the class that Mexican immigrants are sometimes pejoratively referred to as “wetbacks.”

“Brandeis … has behaved utterly outrageously and atrociously,” he said.

“I have been persecuted for some years because I am outspoken … and this is vindictive persecution for my outspokenness,” he said before refusing to comment further and referring questions to his lawyer.

His lawyer, Andrew Good, said Hindley was not allowed to appeal the provost’s decision and has so far refused to attend sensitivity training. He received a letter from the university on Jan. 7 declaring the matter closed.

The university refused comment on the details of the case.

“The university feels that this is a personnel and private matter and above all else the university is obligated is to protect the confidentiality of the individuals involved in this case,” spokesman Dennis Nealon said.

Calls to Krauss and President Jehuda Reinharz were not returned on Thursday.

Brandeis’ Faculty Senate faulted the administration for its handling of Hindley’s case in emergency session on Nov. 8, according to the foundation.

Marc Brettler, chairman of the faculty senate, said he could not comment on Thursday because the case is still pending.

The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonprofit that protects free speech and academic freedom.

Brandeis, a private university with about 3,200 students, is named after former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a passionate defender of free speech rights.

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