The Brandeis “Chilling Effect” Continues?

By February 16, 2007

Daniel Pipes, the always-controversial Middle East scholar, wrote in The Justice, the student newspaper at Brandeis University, on Tuesday that University President Jehuda Reinharz has covertly established “a closed student-faculty committee to monitor speakers on the Middle East.”

Reinharz, in a reply to Pipes (made public on Pipes’ personal web site) confirmed the existence of such a “committee” but divulged few details about its purpose.

Many members of the Brandeis community, like alum David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy, are wary of this committee, fearing that Reinharz is seeking to arm himself with a level of veto power over student-sponsored events. This would not be Reinharz’s first foray into interfering with student speech. Last year, Reinharz drew sharp criticism for ordering the removal of a student art exhibit that featured pictures drawn by children in a West Bank youth center.

Reinharz hinted in The Justice on Feb. 6 that he may override invitations to bring Pipes and another speaker—the highly controversial Norman Finkelstein—to campus. “I have a fear that these people who are being invited are weapons of mass destruction,” he said. (Reinharz has since said that The Justice misinterpreted him, but did not deny using the term “weapons of mass destruction.”)

John Hose, Reinharz’s executive assistant, added: “These are people who tend to inflame passions, whose mission is not so much discussion and education as it is theater, a show.” … If [students] want theater then it’s best to go to Spingold [theater]. … But if you want serious discussion, there’s lots of resources available for that already at Brandeis.”

As David Bernstein wisely noted, “Brandeis claims to be a liberal arts institution open to all views, and thus has no business censoring individuals invited by students or faculty to speak, be it Pipes or Finkelstein.”

Reinharz and Hose would be wise to remember that the university’s namesake, former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a brilliant legal mind and a staunch First Amendment advocate, would never have tolerated any limitations on student expression. It’s too early to know for sure the administration’s motivation for creating this committee, but Reinharz could quell skepticism by finally announcing that the school’s founding principles of academic freedom and free speech are simply too important to be sacrificed on his watch.

Schools: Brandeis University