FIRE Op-Ed: Brandeis Administration Must Demonstrate Integrity to Avoid Calamity

By on February 10, 2009

Today’s edition of The Justice features an op-ed from FIRE’s Adam Kissel about the ongoing controversy at Brandeis University regarding the future of the Rose Art Museum and what it reveals about the viability of the Reinharz administration at Brandeis. Adam succinctly demonstrates that this is only the latest in a string of crises including the abhorrent treatment of Professor Donald Hindley. As he explains, the school is in the midst of a campus revolt which has been brewing for some time and is a direct and predictable result of the administration’s continued lack of effective leadership.

Anyone who has followed the developments in Hindley’s case will notice the same characteristic disrespect for the input of the larger Brandeis community in the handling of the Rose Art Museum controversy. In example after example, the administration has shown a tin ear toward issues of great importance in the Brandeis community. As a result, it has paid a heavy price. As Adam writes in today’s column:

When I wrote an e-mail to University President Jehuda Reinharz and all of Brandeis’ trustees last summer saying Brandeis was in "revolt," little did I know the big revolt was yet to come.

The Rose Art Museum controversy is just the latest issue to put the president’s judgment in question. With a declining endowment, donor outrage, withering press coverage, a sharp decrease in applications and extensive faculty and student resistance, Brandeis is only one or two steps from the brink of chaos. It cannot afford a leader whose decisions lack transparency and reasonable decision-making processes.

Despite the wide range of problems currently plaguing Brandeis and the options for resolving them, it is becoming increasingly clear that many of the school’s woes stem from a consistent lack of effective leadership from the Reinharz administration. With damning precision, Adam directs his readers to the heart of the matter:

Now the lack of transparency and process has reared its head once again in the Rose decision. Even those who support the decision can criticize the administration for its bungling, keeping the facts hidden and then having nowhere to go when the sun came out.

Brandeis needs to restore a campus culture in which most faculty members and students actually trust the administration. Brandeis should be a place that truly values academic freedom, freedom of speech and due process. The alternative to healing these wounds is another year of diminishing confidence in Brandeis’ administration both on and off campus.

My organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, put a full-page, color advertisement in U.S. News & World Report, right next to the annual college rankings, warning prospective students that they should think twice before applying to Brandeis. Brandeis is one of only five schools in the country with this notorious "Red Alert" classification. The case also has been covered in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Providence Journal, Huffington Post and many more media outlets.

Expressions of lack of confidence will build until Brandeis’ administration changes course and earns back the trust it has squandered. The blogosphere and freelance columnists like Nat Hentoff will keep speaking out, and FIRE will keep reminding students that their rights are in jeopardy if they go to Brandeis.

Adam ends by noting that bringing about a positive resolution of Hindley’s case would not take a lot of effort.

President Reinharz doesn’t even have to say he was wrong about anything. It will be enough that people know that his administration finally did the right thing and rescinded Hindley’s guilty verdict. Now is the perfect time. Brandeis is focusing its attention on staying solvent, but bringing justice for Hindley would win the trust, credibility and respect the administration deeply needs.

Of course, doing the right thing by Hindley will not instantly fix all of Brandeis’ problems. It will not lead to an overnight surge in endowment and enrollment figures. It will not immediately restore the faith of alumni who feel betrayed by their alma mater. Moreover, it will not fully answer those of us wondering how a school named for one of the most vigorous champions of free speech could have so completely turned its back on that very principle.

But while doing the right thing cannot provide an instant fix, it would certainly go a long way in healing the school’s damaged reputation. And at Brandeis, where so many controversies are either causes or effects of the community’s distrust of the administration, a renewed promise of integrity would be an enormous first step.

Schools: Brandeis University