William Brody Non-Responds to High School Student

By December 18, 2006

Last week, I posted an e-mail sent to William Brody, President of Johns Hopkins University, by a high school student expressing his unwillingness to attend Johns Hopkins because of the deplorable manner in which the university is treating Justin Park. Below is William Brody’s reply.

I have received so many emails on this issue I am generally not able to respond, but in your case I thought I ought to.

Firstly, thank you for your very thoughtful e-mail. I would underscore, however, that this is a matter of civil conduct and the university’s obligation to promote a civil society within our student body. It has nothing to do with free speech and certainly I am not weighing the votes pro or con on the actions taken by the Student Conduct Board (which were done by a group in which the students outnumber the administration 3:2).

So our students, upon being presented with the facts (not impressions) came to one conclusion. You and your colleagues, without benefit of all the details, based upon some facts and no doubt many impressions, came to another. So be it. I cannot please everyone and I am not engaging in a popularity contest as I have no ambitions in running for political office.

I am, however, sorry you will not be considering Johns Hopkins for college, but of course there are many wonderful choices of every persuasion that offer you the freedom of choice, something that makes America so different from most other countries in the world.

At the same time, I would ask you to wonder whether the information you have is both accurate and relevant (on any matter, but specifically this one) before you pass such harsh judgment—often times issues on college campuses are co-opted by groups on the far left or far right and used to promote their platform, and the internet readily facilitates use of that platform. If that platform is consonant with your beliefs, so be it, but as you go to college and beyond, I urge you always to try to determine where the truth actually lies.

For example, the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health recently issued a study showing that the estimate of the # of deaths in Iraq was 10X what the administration was indicating. We were castigated for being so far off and accused of political influence in our research.

I supported the investigators and the study methodology, even though the publication of their results could potentially harm the university’s ability to receive federal research dollars (of which we are, by far the largest of any university). This is an issue of freedom of speech about which I felt strongly.

Meanwhile, the press, (e.g., the Wall Street Journal) however, printed commentaries, that were filled with factual inaccuracies and impressions about the Hopkins study in an effort to invalidate its conclusions, and I, of course, received many e-mails telling me how bad our university was for allowing its faculty to publish such a study that obviously must have been politically biased.

Now, two weeks ago the Iraq Study Group has just released, I believe in their report, a commentary to the fact that the Hopkins study might indeed be correct, pointing out that the US Defense Dept. methodology underreports casualties in Iraq. Vindication for our study? Maybe yes, maybe not. But other researchers can try to validate it with follow-on studies. Our role is to publish the data hopefully collected and analyzed accurately and let the chips fall where they may.

I say this not to validate the results of the study, but rather to indicate that the university does indeed care as deeply about freedom of speech as it does about civility.

Good luck in your search for college and beyond.

Sincerely yours,

William R. Brody
President

Since FIRE has seen fit to post Brody’s response, we should probably take some responsibility for the headaches caused in our readers. We sincerely apologize. Brody’s non-answer pretty much speaks for itself and it is difficult to know where to begin refuting such inanity. Nevertheless, here are a few points.

  • “This is a matter of civil conduct and the university’s obligation to promote a civil society within our student body. It has nothing to do with free speech.” It has everything to do with free speech and the tenets of a free and decent, not to mention civil, society for reasons FIRE has already made clear.
  • “The Student Conduct Board (which were done by a group in which the students outnumber the administration 3:2).” As FIRE has already explained, one of the students on the Conduct Board was a member of the Black Student Union, the organization that complained about Justin Park’s invitation. Being tried by one’s accusers is anathema to procedural due process, an integral component of a just society. And President Brody is using this as an example of the justice of Hopkins’ conduct. Need we say more?
  • “I cannot please everyone.” We are not asking you to, sir. We are asking you to rule justly with due respect for freedom of expression.
  • “Often times issues on college campuses are co-opted by groups on the far left or far right.” Irrelevant. FIRE is neither. He is obfuscating the issue. This is about the place of expression in a free and decent society and President Brody is making a great case that JHU is neither free nor decent.

Finally, President Brody enters into a discussion on the Hopkins Iraq War study that is fascinating, but quite beside the point. If he is trying to argue that he is a champion of free speech, we are going to have to respectfully disagree and ask that President Brody stop making excuses and uphold the ideals of free expression and civil society he claims to value so much.

Schools: Johns Hopkins University Cases: Johns Hopkins University: Student Punished for Party Invitation