Over at Minding the Campus, John Leo calls our attention to Brandeis University’s "Diversity Statement," in which the school calls social justice "central to its mission as a nonsectarian university."
Torch readers undoubtedly know that FIRE has taken issue with mentions of social justice in schools’ materials before, most notably fighting against social justice requirements at Columbia Teachers College and scoring a victory for freedom of conscience when the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) abolished similar requirements for future teachers.
Compelling university students to live by commitments to ambiguous terms like "social justice" (or the just-as-ominous "social action," which Brandeis also uses in its Diversity Statement) is incongruous at a school that claims to value true diversity of thought, as Brandeis does. In fact, Brandeis’s own mission statement declares:
In a world of challenging social and technological transformations, Brandeis remains a center of open inquiry and teaching, cherishing its independence from any doctrine or government.
By being a nonsectarian university that welcomes students, teachers, and staff of every nationality, religion, and political orientation, Brandeis renews the American heritage of cultural diversity, equal access to opportunity, and freedom of expression.
The problem with a school officially committing to social justice—as FIRE has made clear before—is that the term is loaded with political and ideological undercurrents that demand students and faculty to replace their own political views with whatever their school has deemed appropriate. FIRE objects to a university promising to uphold the fundamental ideals of freedom of expression and independent thought, but then turning around and officially pledging to privilege a principle like social justice—a vague and subjective concept that is dangerous at any school which claims to honor freedom of conscience.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Brandeis would make such an unwise decision and curtail freedom on campus, considering it earned itself the dubious distinction of a place on FIRE’s Red Alert list for its ongoing disregard for the freedom of its students and faculty. Whatever the case, Brandeis has just given us cause to monitor the state of liberty on its campus even more closely.