Justice Brandeis would be proud … or would he?

By April 8, 2008

The Waltham-based university named after the late and great Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis, champion of free speech and free thought, has just achieved the dubious distinction of winning one of the “muzzle awards” given out annually by the highly respected Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, located in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Twelve “winners” were picked this year, and Brandeis was chosen for its utterly incomprehensible efforts to punish a tenured faculty member, long-time Professor Donald Hindley, for his having used the word “wetback” in what turns out to be a perfectly appropriate and relevant manner during a lecture on Mexican politics and culture. It’s an offensive word, Brandeis’ Provost concluded, notwithstanding the available evidence that Professor Hindley was actually criticizing the racist use of the term. (Of course, even if Hindley approved of such use of the term, it would be his right. But the irony of punishing an anti-racist classroom lecture, on grounds of racial or ethnic intolerance or harassment, is just too much.)

The battle against the Brandeis censors in the Hindley case as well as other recent attempts at suppression of speech has been taken up by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, of which I am co-founder and currently serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors. It is nice to see that the First Amendment Center agrees that battling censorship at Brandeis is a worthy goal. Maybe Brandeis President Yehuda Reinharz will begin to get the hint and undertake a conversion of Brandeis’ culture into something that Justice Brandeis would recognize and of which he would approve.

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Schools: Brandeis University