FIRE Intern, Student Leader Both Defend Faculty and Student Rights in Brandeis Student Newspaper

By August 28, 2009

Former FIRE intern and current Brandeis student Daniel Ortner has an op-ed today in The Brandeis Hoot blasting Yale University Press for refusing to reprint cartoon depictions of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed in Brandeis professor Jytte Klausen’s book about the controversy sparked by their initial publication. Robert scourged the prestigious university publisher in a post on Pajamas Media a couple of weeks ago. Daniel relates that episode of censorship to the larger problem of censorship on campus and a few past FIRE cases.

The academic press and universities at large are supposed to be the bastions of freedom. They are supposed to defend free speech even when ideas are unpopular. Instead, when it comes to controversial matters, specifically in regard to Islam, it seems that such principles are conveniently ignored. In this culture, is it any surprise that the editors of a conservative paper at Tufts were found guilty of harassment for printing factually true statements about Islam, or that at San Francisco State University, students were nearly disciplined, were it not for the intervention of the Foundation For Individual Rights In Education, for stepping on flags of Hamas and Hezbollah?

At its core, we have our notions of academic freedom in place specifically to protect those writing about controversial content. Prof. Klausen should be commended for tackling such an important and controversial topic. Her writing should be treated as sacrosanct precisely because individuals are willing to use violent force to take away a privilege we have fought so hard for. Instead, the very institutions that we expect to protect our rights have cowardly betrayed them.

As Torch readers know, Brandeis is on FIRE’s Red Alert list for finding Professor Donald Hindley guilty of racial harassment for using a racially pejorative word in class while critiquing it. Thus we were pleased to see in the same issue of the Hoot this open letter to Brandeis students by Student Union President Andy Hogan. He offers three important issues he will be working on for Brandeis students in the coming year including an experimental summer academic program, connection with the university community, and student rights. Hogan writes:

This year, in collaboration with the Office and Deans of Student Life, we will be revaluating the way Brandeis looks at student rights, the disciplinary process, and rights and responsibilities. We will be taking the entire year to observe and completely revamp the student conduct process. To get involved, please join the Office of Student Rights and Advocacy (application was given in Thursday’s email). All ideas will be considered. This is our opportunity to work with the administration to find a solution that works for everyone.

Thankfully for free speech, a number of Brandeis students still care about the legacy of Justice Brandeis’ namesake university.

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