OP-ED: University should solve censorship issue

By February 10, 2009

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.

Given these conditions, I can understand why tensions are high. But this recent string of incidents is not the first episode that eroded trust in the administration.

The most notable incident was the "Hindley affair" last year. By attempting to resolve this issue, Brandeis would once again show respect for student and faculty views and demonstrate an intent to maintain a fair, open relationship with the rest of campus.

Last year, Provost Marty Krauss put a monitor in Prof. Donald Hindley’s (POL) classes to keep him from racially harassing his students. The problem was that he never did any such thing in the first place.

After Prof. Hindley explained the historical connotations of the term wetbacks in a relevant course, he was found guilty of racial harassment. He never even got a hearing, and after a few months the provost simply declared the matter closed.

Following that, however, the faculty withdrew support for the harassment policy. The Faculty Senate also passed multiple resolutions about the abuse of power in the current administration, regretting that this issue "has damaged the collegiality of our University, its academic and intellectual function, its faculty governance procedures and its public reputation." Meanwhile, the faculty’s Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities stopped hearing new grievances essentially because the administration couldn’t be trusted in such matters of faculty governance.

In a Nov. 6, 2007 editorial, the Justice called the idea that the Hindley fiasco was designed to punish Hindley for his outspokenness about unrelated issues "disturbing".

Indeed, many students have become quite concerned about the issues of general student rights and free speech on campus. For one thing, the new Office of Student Rights and Advocacy is a major initiative of the Student Union. Even more new student organizations formed to protect student rights, including Advocates for Event Education with Police Instruction and Brandeis Students for Free Expression and Academic Freedom.

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.

On campus, faculty members and students continue their involvement in rights issues. Indeed, as the Faculty Senate suggested, the Hindley case will keep impairing Brandeis’ reputation, which will limit Brandeis’ ability to recruit students and faculty and to raise funds.

Brandeis could be a great school again, but it is not there yet. The president’s apology over the Rose fiasco was a good start, but until the Hindley affair is resolved and that finding of guilt is rescinded, bad blood will pervade Brandeis.

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.

The writer is the director of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education’s Individual Rights Defense program.

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Schools: Brandeis University