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Prof in trouble for blasting ‘wetbacks’ slur

A professor is being punished for criticizing the use of an ethnic slur in what the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is calling a "a mindless application of ‘sensitivity at all costs' at the expense of freedom of expression."

The dispute arose over the work of Brandeis University Latin American Politics professor Donald Hindley, a veteran of nearly 50 years in teaching.

He has been declared guilty of racial harassment and has had a monitor placed in his classes after "he criticized the use of the word ‘wetbacks' in his Latin American Politics course," according to a statement from FIRE.

He "has neither been granted a formal hearing by Brandeis nor provided with the substance of the accusations against him in writing," the organization said.

Lorna Miles, Brandeis' senior vice president for communications, told WND that the school would have no comment.

"We take the privacy of personnel matters quite seriously," she said. "The administration has to maintain the confidentiality of the process."

But officials with FIRE were not so reluctant.

"Brandeis's actions demonstrate a fundamental disregard for academic freedom and for fair, rational fact-finding procedures," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "Professor Hindley is a respected scholar who until now has not faced a single student complaint in nearly five decades of teaching."

The foundation said the complaint stemmed from a 2007 course on Latin American politics. At least one student apparently complained, but despite his repeated demands, Brandeis administrators would not disclose in writing precisely what provided the offense.

"According to Hindley, he explained to his class that Mexican migrants in the United States are sometimes referred to pejoratively as ‘wetbacks.' If this statement against racism was at the center of Brandeis's investigation, this is an extreme example of suppressing academic speech by taking it out of context," FIRE's statement said.

However, the complaint was passed on to Provost Marty Krauss and Director of Employment Jesse Simone, FIRE said.

"Although Brandeis's discrimination policy directs administrators to attempt to mediate the conflict, Simone instead began a weeks-long investigation, interrogated Hindley on October 22, 2007, without having alerted him to the nature of the complaint, and submitted her report to Krauss the next day without giving Hindley a chance to make final comments and clarifications-a right promised in Brandeis's policies," FIRE said.

A week later Hindley was informed by Simone he was guilty of making "statements in class that were inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory," and that such conduct violated university policy.

A letter was dispatched to the professor the same day telling him, "the university will not tolerate inappropriate, racial and discriminatory conduct by members of its faculty." Krauss threatened Hindley with firing, FIRE said, and set up a monitor to watch the professor in class.

Even though Hindley appealed to the school Committee on Faculty Rights, the monitor remained.

After the university's faculty senate met in emergency session about the case and "strongly faulted" the administration by unanimous resolution, and after the Committee of Faculty Rights issued a series of "scathing" reports, Krauss sent Hindley a letter saying the matter was "closed."

FIRE also wrote to the school, criticizing it for putting "individual sensitivities over the freedom of speech and academic freedom of its professors."

The foundation said it had not had a response from Brandeis.

"That Brandeis would subject a professor to classroom monitoring and then simply sweep the case under the rug reveals Brandeis's distastefully low respect for its faculty," said Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program. "Brandeis has yet to explain how administrators could have so grossly misinterpreted normal classroom speech as ‘harassment.'"

FIRE is a nonprofit education group that works toward individual rights, due process, freedom of expression and academic freedom at university's and colleges.

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