Silverglate and Creeley on Brandeis Scandal in ‘Minding the Campus’

By on February 10, 2009

Minding the Campus just posted an incisive examination of recent events at Brandeis University authored by FIRE co-founder Harvey Silverglate and Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley.

Like the op-ed by FIRE’s Adam Kissel published earlier today in the Brandeis student newspaper, The Justice, Silverglate’s and Creeley’s post takes Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz to task for his handling of both the Rose Art Museum fiasco and the case of Professor Donald Hindley. They write:

During the fall 2007 semester, Brandeis Professor Donald Hindley was accused of "racial harassment." His offense? Critiquing the use of the derogatory term "wetback" in his course on Latin American politics. For this, Hindley–a political liberal who had not received a single student complaint in his almost five decades of teaching–was summarily found guilty by Reinharz’s administration. Never mind that Hindley didn’t use the term pejoratively. Never mind that explaining the term in class doesn’t come close to meeting any rational harassment definition and is fully protected by academic freedom. Hindley’s mere discussion of the word in class was enough for Reinharz’s administration to find him guilty.

Making matters worse, Hindley was denied anything resembling a fair and rational process. (How else, after all, could such an academic use of a word be deemed "harassment"?) Hindley was subject to summary investigation without even being told precisely what words were deemed harassing. He was not allowed to comment on the investigatory report prior to its submission.

Soon after the report’s filing, Hindley was notified by Reinharz’s Provost Marty Krauss that he was guilty of harassment. As a consequence, Krauss informed Hindley that a monitor would observe his classroom until Krauss determined Hindley was "able to conduct [himself] appropriately in the classroom." Hindley appealed the punishment to the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities–an action which should have temporarily suspended the punishment and removed the monitor, according to university policy. But Krauss maintained the monitor for the semester.

The article concludes:

Brandeis’ president and his administration appear to have not heeded the lessons from powerful executives in other arenas of American life. Leaders who believe that their high positions endow them with both infallible wisdom and unfettered authority all too frequently wreak great destruction on their institutions and, incidentally, on their own reputations. Only too late do these leaders realize that inevitable downfall follows executive hubris.

You can read the full article here.

Schools: Brandeis University