Reply to Comment on Brandeis Case

By February 12, 2009

My op-ed in the Brandeis Justice this week outlines the outrage at Brandeis over the Hindley affair (a professor punished after he critiqued the term "wetbacks" in a relevant course), the Rose Art Museum fiasco, and the implications of these controversies for the viability of the Reinharz administration going forward. The op-ed also outlines the widespread response at Brandeis among faculty members and students asserting their rights in the face of a stiff-necked administration.

Brandeis sophomore Nathan Hakimi has commented on the op-ed, largely agreeing with me:

I have to commend you, for making legitimately powerful points about the lack of transparency on this campus and calling out the administration for its obvious dishonest treatment of Hindley.

Truly, I wish the Hindley thing hadn’t happened and I am ashamed of what happened….

Yes, they should take back the Hindley verdict.

But Hakimi also states:

But at this point it’s hardly relevant. They’ve just shelled out 20 grand on PR over the Rose Art crap, and now you’ll have them remind everyone of a mistake made last year? Forgive me for siding with the university in wanting to move on. I believe that the backlash over that, from students and faculty alike, has more than vindicated him. [Link added.]

In reply, I disagree. The backlash most likely has vindicated Hindley among most people who know the story, but as my op-ed points out, this is not a case that the Brandeis community has forgotten. The Faculty Senate is still dealing with the issues raised by Hindley’s case, and the new student groups interested in protecting students’ rights frequently cite Hindley’s case as part of their reason for being. The rest of the campus has not moved on and probably will not move on while the finding against Hindley remains, but removing the finding truly would help Brandeis move on.

Hakimi also has not been at Brandeis long enough to remember the case of Gravity Magazine, which Brandeis’ student government effectively shut down because of the magazine’s "generally offensive" content. I encourage him to read about it. One of the huge problems with sweeping free-speech violations under the rug is that students are ultimately taught that censorship and official punishment are acceptable ways of shutting down words and opinions they don’t like. Although Hakimi does not believe that his speech "is even actually threatened, never mind censored," just let him read the near-unanimous resolution of the Student Union Senate against the magazine, and I think that he might change his mind. He might also come to believe that it is a good thing that we are warning students to be jealous of their rights if they choose to enroll at Brandeis.

Hakimi’s main bone of contention is that FIRE is still fighting the Hindley case. He tells us: "Don’t worry, we’ve got it under control." But while the faculty members, students, and journalists who are speaking out should be commended, the sad truth is that they have not changed the campus culture at Brandeis to one where the administration respects individual rights. FIRE has been working cooperatively with many of these constituencies, supporting them and sharing information. It would be wonderful if Brandeis could resolve its own free-speech problems, but so far, it has not, and Brandeis today is far from under control.

I believe that sustained efforts by FIRE and these constituencies will eventually result in a full victory for Hindley, whether it is accomplished under the Reinharz administration or the next one. "Moving on" without actually achieving a satisfactory resolution for Professor Hindley not only ignores the substantive wrong Hindley has sufferedit also sends an implicit signal to would-be censors at Brandeis that they may silence students and faculty with impunity.

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