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Red Alert at Brandeis University: Administration Must Clear Professor's Name

Following last Tuesday's full-page advertisement in U.S. News & World Report's annual "Best Colleges" issue, FIRE has been detailing why individual rights are in serious jeopardy at each of the six schools on our Red Alert list. For those of you just tuning in to this blog series, the Red Alert list is reserved for universities which, in FIRE's estimation, have displayed severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of their students or faculty members and are the "worst of the worst" when it comes to liberty on campus. This year's list includes Brandeis University, Bucknell University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University.

Brandeis will remain on FIRE's Red Alert list so long as it refuses to clear the name of Professor Donald Hindley, whom the administration found guilty of harassment in 2007 after he uttered the the word "wetbacks"in order to explain and criticize the use of the termin his Latin American politics course. Without a formal hearing or any statement of the charges against him, Hindley was notified that he had violated the university's anti-harassment policy by making "statements in class that were inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory." As punishment, Provost Marty Krausswho just announced this week that she will be stepping down by June 2011placed a monitor in Hindley's classroom, who remained in both of Hindley's Fall 2007 courses throughout the rest of the term.

In its zeal to punish Hindley, the Brandeis administration was utterly unmoved by vocal objections from the faculty, who were rightfully and profoundly concerned with the broader implications for academic freedom on Brandeis' campus. The Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities issued a report finding that the administration's actions violated Hindley's right to academic freedom and constituted "a threat to the academic freedom of other faculty and students" as well.

In January of 2008, Provost Krauss issued a statement declaring the matter "closed," without ever acknowledging the egregious violations of Professor Hindley's rights to free speech and due process and without reversing the finding that Hindley was guilty of harassment. In the intervening years, FIRE has continued to push for Hindley's exoneration. This past January, we wrote to Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz about the case for the third time:

While it is too late to give Professor Hindley the due process and the basic respect for his liberties that the university owed him, it is not too late for Brandeis to remove the letter from his file that declares him guilty of making "inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory" statements in class. Such a degradation of free expression and academic freedom cannot be allowed to stand, and FIRE will continue to publicly call on Brandeis to remedy this wrong until it does so. [Emphasis added.]

But the guilty finding still remainsand so long as it does, Brandeis will remain on FIRE's Red Alert list. The fact that the university is unwilling to take such a simple step demonstrates its unrepentant disregard for the most basic rights of its faculty and students.

Jehuda Reinharz is set to step down from Brandeis' presidency in January 2011, to be succeeded by Fred Lawrence, the dean of George Washington University Law School. Perhaps Lawrence, who is regarded as an expert on civil rights, will see fit to right this egregious wrong. One thing is for sure: FIRE will be urging him to do so.

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