After the furor over the mistreatment of professor Donald Hindley (POL) last year, featuring student strikes outside of Bernstein Marcus, and the freezing of all Faculty Senate Buisness for the semester, the lack of resolution or follow up this semester has been striking. We could be lulled into thinking that because Hindley continues to teach without restraint and the faculty senate is back to business, that the matter is closed. However, in reality the matter is like a festering wound draining the vigor and light from the name of Brandeis, and, if renewed public attention is any indication, one that is about to explode.
According to an ad placed by the Foundation For Individual Rights In Education in this years’ US News and World Report, Brandeis is one of the "worst of the worst" in regards to liberty on campus. The World Net Daily and Jewish World Review declared that Brandeis University dishonors its name (September 24, 2008) and The Providence Journal featured an Editorial entitled Brandeis Shames Itself (October 25, 2008). You are fooling yourself if you don’t believe that this adverse attention and these articles have not significantly soured our institution’s ability to raise money from our alumni base, attract talented and bright new students and find our faculty willing to stand up for basic rights.
How many bright college bound students look at the ad featured in U.S News and World Report and immediately cross Brandeis from their list of potential schools? I know I would have. How many fascinating, informative but slightly controversial words have been dropped from lectures? How many professors have become more cautious and failed therefore to be involved in the planning of thrilling and exciting campus events? The impact of these things is a slow, dripping corrosion of the Academic Excellence and Commitment to Social Action pillars of our university.
What makes this whole situation worse is that it could easily still be fixed. All that is necessary is a small admission on the administrations part that they over reacted. An acknowledgement that in their admirable desire to protect students they overstepped their bounds and reacted far too harshly to legitimate classroom expression. Moreover, that in their haste to do so they compromised the process put in place to ensure that professors would not unfairly be subjected to punishment without due process. Even a small admission of these flaws with a sincere and contrite attitude rather than one of egotistical self-importance would go a long way to healing the wounds that their actions inflicted.
What else is clear is that until the administration does this, students and faculty will never truly feel secure on campus. It is admirable that the Student Union has taken an intense interest informing students of their rights, but how secure can we be that these rights will be granted to us when they are needed if the process was so compromised in the Hindley case? While in general it seems that Director of Student Development and Conduct Erika Lamarre does an excellent job of balancing students rights and procedure (something that I can myself attest to), there have been several accusations that proper procedure was compromised, most recently in the case of Mamoon Darwish (Former TYP). And moreover, there is no guarantee that an order from a higher placed individual in the University could not cause the whole sets of procedures to come tumbling down as they did in the Hindley case.
What we saw at Brandeis in the Hindley case is essentially the equivalent of the Bush administration’s policy of placing detainees in Guantanamo Bay and then after the fact creating a justification and a rationale for its over exertion of power. What makes it worse in the case of Brandeis is that there is no judicial check over administrative action. Moreover, the administration is not reliant on the students or faculty for its support as the president is to American people. Instead, trustees, who seemed more concerned when a controversial former president came to speak at Brandeis than when the rights of free speech of the faculty are trampled upon, who seem to completely support the administration in every decision are the sole sources of accountability.
Unfortunately, all words of student and faculty protest have gone unheard. It is equally unlikely that the words I write will have any impact on this process or administration. Yet I am cautiously hopeful that continuous attention brought to the matter by donors and the media, both campus and external, may one day lead to a new era on our campus in which openness, accountability and proper procedure rule.