EDITORIAL: We didn’t start the FIRE: Future of free speech at stake

March 25, 2008

When he spoke here earlier this month, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education founder Harvey Silverglate proclaimed that free speech, parody and vigorous debate have died in American higher education. Free speech may not be completely dead on this campus, but the administration’s disregard for the voice of its faculty members means free speech is in serious jeopardy.

FIRE recently put Brandeis on its "red list," meaning that the University’s policies are dangerous to basic freedoms. That was evident after the handling of the case of Prof. Donald Hindley (POL), in which Provost Marty Krauss maintained that the ruling of the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities was merely an "advisory opinion."

The CFRR has asserted on several occasions that Ms. Krauss was responsible for serious violations of faculty rights during this process. While the faculty handbook requires the provost to inform the Faculty Senate of possible terminations and states that the CFRR hears faculty appeals of penalties imposed by the administration, Ms. Krauss threatened Mr. Hindley with termination last October without consulting the Senate and denied the CFRR’s authority in the appeals process. The committee described the penalties she imposed on Mr. Hindley for using a phrase in an allegedly racist way during a lecture as "excessive," but the Provost never took that into account.

The aftermath of this situation has left the faculty dispute resolution in shambles, as the CFRR announced that it has temporarily stopped hearing grievances against the administration. But the greater consequences of the Hindley ordeal are forfree speech at Brandeis. If the administration does not respect the voice of the faculty, it can’t be counted on to defend students’ rights to free speech. The administration has violated free speech in the past, such as when it removed a student’s exhibit of drawings by Palestinian children from the library in 2006, and seems as willing as ever to censor free speech again.

The University is developing a dangerously poor reputation on upholding faculty speech and faculty rights in general. Mr. Silverglate said that whether Mr. Hindley used the term "wetback" did not matter as long as it was germane to the context of his course. But whether Mr. Hindley’s words fell under free speech is beside the point. Since the Provost never considered the faculty’s opinion in this case, Mr. Hindley never got a chance to at least defend his right.

The faculty and the administration have said that they are working collaboratively to fix dispute resolution process, but that doesn’t remedy the injustice that has already occurred in the Hindley case. Ms. Krauss ignored the opinions of her faculty members, and as a result, Mr. Hindley’s right to free speech was disregarded. No solution to this problem can be taken seriously until the Provost reaffirms the CFRR’s authority. The future of free speech on this campus is at stake.