Faculty Rights vs. Provostal Abuses at Brandeis

By on May 22, 2008

I reported on Monday that the Brandeis University faculty continues to stand up for its academic freedom and due process rights against Provost Marty Krauss in the wake of her disastrous handling of the case of Professor Donald Hindley, who was declared guilty of racial harassment and had a monitor placed in his classes after he criticized the use of the word “wetbacks” in his Latin American Politics course. To recap: after faculty protest of Krauss’ handling of the Hindley case, Krauss challenged the authority of the school’s Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities (CFRR. In response, the faculty passed numerous resolutions in support of faculty rights, and the CFRR deferred all new faculty grievance cases because the system had broken down.

 

Today we post the CFRR report from the May 15 faculty meeting, presented by CFRR chair Richard Gaskins. Here are key excerpts: 

[T]he Provost had challenged the jurisdiction of our Committee to hear appeals in certain cases, as well as our authority to investigate violations of core faculty rights to fair treatment and academic freedom. The Committee could no longer promise our colleagues a grievance process where everyone was playing by the same rules. There were also faculty members who declined to pursue grievances already in the pipeline, given these uncertain conditions. 

When the basic rules of our Handbook are called into question, it is not enough just to sit down and write new or tougher rules. We can spend hours debating new language for the Handbook, but everything depends on how those rules will be interpreted, and by whom. Here is that roadblock I just mentioned. Any grievance system needs to rely on fixed and predictable rules. The Provost and Dean, on the other hand, are looking for maximum flexibility and discretion, relating to their roles as administrators who may need to override the rules for the larger good of the University, as they see it. 

Along with her authority to make final decisions, [the Provost] also wants the final authority to interpret the rules themselves, whenever she reads them in a different way from the faculty. Combining these two kinds of authority in the Provost makes it impossible to sustain any semblance of a grievance process. Under the Provost’s approach, she is not only the final judge of her own actions, but also the final interpreter of the very rules by which her actions are being judged. At the end of the day, these rules will mean whatever she decides they mean, applied retrospectively to her own actions that are being challenged. It is hard to reconcile this approach with basic notions of accountability. We have seen the heavy hand of this approach in the Hindley matter, but also in some prior controversies unrelated to grievances. 

Tired as we all are at the end of the year, it would be tempting to paper it over with smiles and handshakes, and to pretend to patch things up with a few brisk amendments to the Handbook. But we simply cannot let this issue slide away. What concerns us most is the next faculty member, perhaps someone sitting in this room, who comes to this Committee with a formal grievance. If it involves the campus harassment policy, right now we have no confidence that the Committee can take jurisdiction in your case. We have no confidence that the Committee can investigate whether you were denied your basic right to fair treatment under University policies, or your right to academic freedom. There is no guarantee that any sanctions imposed on you would be suspended pending the deliberations of this Committee. And we can give you no assurance that the rules as written and interpreted by your faculty peers will be the rules under which you and others on campus will be judged. 

This is clearly not an acceptable state of affairs.

Due process is fundamental to fair treatment at any university, public or private. FIRE applauds the faculty at Brandeis who are fighting for their rights.

Schools: Brandeis University