Nat Hentoff on Brandeis: ‘The Most Outrageous Case of All’

By on September 24, 2008

Renowned scholar, critic, and free speech advocate Nat Hentoff, a member of FIRE’s Board of Advisors, published a syndicated editorial today sharply criticizing the administration of Brandeis University for its deplorable treatment of Professor Donald Hindley, accusing the university of betraying the legacy of its namesake, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Brandeis University’s disregard for Hindley’s fundamental rights has been so egregious that Hentoff, who has been writing about free speech issues for decades, writes: "I have now found the most outrageous case of all."

Emphasizing how far from free-speech principles the university has strayed, Hentoff quotes Justice Brandeis’ opinion in Whitney v. California (1972): "Those who won independence believed … that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are … indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth." This ideal was smashed during the university’s investigation and punishment of Hindley, a nearly fifty-year veteran of the university’s Politics Department, who was found guilty of racial harassment after he critiqued the term "wetbacks" while teaching his course on Latin American Politics. Provost Marty Krauss argued that students in his class suffered "significant emotional trauma" after hearing the term. Krauss assigned a classroom monitor to watch his classes. Hindley never had a chance to see or respond to the allegations against him.

Hentoff interviewed Hindley for the editorial. Hindley told him "that despite the response of the faculty Senate and the committee on faculty rights," which has been uniformly scathing and critical of Brandeis’ administration, "individual tenured members of his department, though outraged, would not stand up publicly on his behalf. One of them explained to him, ‘I’m about to retire.’ He and others fear retaliation." Hentoff’s phone message with Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz (781-736-3001) has not been returned.

Hentoff also notes that "Notwithstanding the indignation on campus, and elsewhere, on how this university, despite its name, has harassed Hindley as if he were a danger to what Provost Marty Kraus accusatorily describe as ‘the welfare of the University’s students,’ the administration remains certain it is acting in the best interests of its students-present and future."

Indeed, indignation has been brewing across campus and the nation for most of a year. Most recently, FIRE has brought additional attention to the case via a full-page U.S. News & World Report advertisement and a Facebook.com advertisement that was displayed over 120,000 times to Brandeis students and alumni.

Finally, Hentoff points out that after FIRE, who alerted him to the case, also wrote Brandeis’ trustees, "there has been only one response, saying that the matter is being handled ‘competently.’"

Nobody else seems to think so.

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