Brandeis University in Hard Times: No Better Time to Heal Free Speech Wounds

By February 2, 2009

Brandeis University is in quite a pickle these days trying to maintain the trust of faculty members and students as it takes action to survive the economic downturn. The Boston Globe and The New York Times, among others, are reporting some of the drastic measures Brandeis is taking. By far the most controversial has been the announced closing of Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum and the sale of its approximately $350 million of holdings. Last week, over 200 students attended a forum to encourage the Brandeis administration to involve students more actively in some of these excruciatingly hard decisions. The student newspapers and a very good blog are keeping up with the increasing number of controversies roiling the campus.

In these times, one would think that President Jehuda Reinharz would be doing everything he can to heal the wounds that have made it difficult for faculty members and students to trust his administration. Perhaps the most important wound to be healed involves the case of Professor Donald Hindley, who after almost 50 years of teaching was subjected to a classroom monitor and a finding of guilt for racial harassment, without due process, because he had critiqued the term "wetbacks" in his Latin American Politics course.

For over a year, faculty members and students have vigorously protested the treatment of Professor Hindley in violation of his academic freedom and his rights to free speech and due process, as well as the implications of that treatment for all other faculty members and students on campus. Several new student organizations have formed to protect student rights, and the faculty continues to be in an unresolved controversy with the administration over university policy and processes in the wake of Hindley’s case. As a faculty resolution stated:

We regret that this recent case has damaged the collegiality of our University, its academic and intellectual function, its faculty governance procedures, and its public reputation.

Strangely, however, Reinharz and his provost, Marty Krauss, have refused to bring justice in Hindley’s case. Thus, FIRE has kept Brandeis on our Red Alert list, reserved for the worst of the worst campus censors, and we have warned students to think twice before applying to Brandeis in a nationwide, full-page, color advertisement in U.S. News & World Report‘s America’s Best Colleges issue. Maybe this is one of the reasons why applications to Brandeis reportedly are down sharply this year. If Brandeis is really going to increase enrollment by 12 percent, it stands to reason that prospective students need to feel that Brandeis is respecting them enough to defend their right to free speech and due process.

All that Reinharz needs to do to heal this wound—and help his administration win some of the support it surely needs right now—is to finally reverse its finding in Hindley’s case. As I asked in August, how hard is it to acknowledge that the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, which had full access to the details of the case, found that serious mistakes of both process and policy interpretation were made? How hard is it to rescind the wrongheaded letter that declared Hindley guilty of harassment?

Surely it’s easier to do that than to close a $350 million museum.

Schools: Brandeis University Cases: Brandeis University: Professor Found Guilty of Harassment for Protected Speech