FIRE in the Brandeis Student Press

By January 30, 2008

The Justice, an independent student newspaper at Brandeis University, features an article discussing FIRE’s work on behalf of embattled professor Donald Hindley.

As loyal Torch readers know by now, Professor Hindley was found to have violated the school’s Non-Discrimination and Harassment policy after he used the word “wetbacks” in a classroom discussion to explain that Mexican migrants in the United States are sometimes referred to by that term. As FIRE stated in its press release, Hindley’s use of the word in that context plainly did not have any racist intentions or insinuations, and it certainly did not rise to the level of true harassment. For the university to punish one of its professors simply for using the word within a legitimate academic discussion (one that was, moreover, germane to his Latin American Politics course) is a major infringement upon his academic freedom. It sends a strong signal to professors and students alike at Brandeis that they are to be careful in what they say, thereby chilling their speech and stifling many different kinds of academic discussion.

The Justice article highlights the fact that, as a result of the university’s finding against him, Hindley was assigned a monitor to observe his classes and required to attend non-discrimination training (which he did not do). You would not be alone in thinking that this punishment seems a bit much for a professor who has been teaching at Brandeis for nearly a half-century and has never previously faced a student complaint.

The article also details the alarming due process violations committed by Brandeis in its handling of the case, in particular the actions of Provost Marty Krauss:

The Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities supported Hindley in a Nov. 29 ruling on his appeal, but Krauss rejected the decision last month, arguing the CFRR lacked the authority to issue a binding opinion. [...]

On Nov. 8, the Faculty Senate adopted a resolution accusing the provost of violating the Faculty Handbook when she threatened Hindley with termination without consulting the Faculty Senate. The CFRR expressed similar concerns in a Dec. 19 statement, claiming that the provost “in cases of this sort, essentially becomes the final judge of her own actions.”

Finally, the article does a good job of placing Hindley’s situation in the context of other recent episodes at the school:

Several critics of the University’s actions connected the dispute with other recent controversies at Brandeis, including the removal in Spring 2006 of an exhibition of art by Palestinian children and the rancor that surrounded former President Jimmy Carter’s visit to campus last spring.

Even in light of these previous problems, Brandeis’s treatment of Hindley has simply been appalling. Let us hope that the Brandeis administration comes to its senses on this one. If it does not, then Brandeis is in for even more public scrutiny, criticism, and embarrassment.

Schools: Brandeis University