Brown’s Rev. Cooper Nelson: Not Off the Hook Yet

By November 29, 2006

While it looks like the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) will be back on campus at Brown University sooner rather than later, it’s still far too early to let Brown—and more specifically, the Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson, Director of Brown’s Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life (OCRL)—off the hook.

As Luke pointed out yesterday morning, Cooper Nelson’s letter to RUF President Ethan Wingfield leaves a lot to be desired. Never mind the fact that the letter fails yet again to provide the RUF with a decent explanation of why they were suspended in the first place. What’s even more troublesome is the fact that Cooper Nelson conditions the RUF’s re-affiliation on four steps required of the group, two of which mandate an adherence to “transparency.” It seems to me to be the height of irony that an administrator who still can’t produce a half-plausible explanation for why the RUF was in trouble now insists on “full transparency” from someone else. Needless to say, the RUF could have benefited greatly from a little transparency from Cooper Nelson and the OCRL. It looks like Cooper Nelson fails to grasp the inherent virtue in practicing what one preaches.

On a related note, further evidence seems to suggest that Cooper Nelson is far from the neutral facilitator one would imagine her job requires.

Readers may recall that the Brown chapter of Hillel recently cancelled a scheduled speaking engagement by author Nonie Darwish. Darwish, an ardent supporter of Israel, was born in Egypt and raised in the Gaza Strip and is the author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror. The cancellation of her visit attracted national media attention, most notably from Adam Brodsky in the New York Post. An observant Torch reader pointed our attention to this article from the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA), which reports that Cooper Nelson was instrumental in pressuring the Brown chapter of Hillel to disinvite Darwish:

According to Yael Richardson, the Hillel chapter’s student president, the board was lobbied by Ahmed and via e-mail by Brown’s head chaplain, the Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson.

Cooper Nelson “told us to think about the implications of what this would do with our religious communities on campus,” Richardson said. “She encouraged us to think carefully about whether we wanted to fund the event.”

As the Torch reader astutely notes, “in both cases of apparent challenges of religious liberty and free speech at Brown, Cooper Nelson and one of her associate chaplains were doing the challenging.” Of course, FIRE will continue to watch with particular interest both Cooper Nelson and the situation at Brown. Stay tuned.

Schools: Brown University