The Brandeis Hoot has an excellent op-ed today by student Daniel Ortner on the case of Donald Hindley: "The Hindley case: Not over yet." Ortner is referring to FIRE's case at Brandeis University regarding Professor Donald Hindley, who was punished with a class monitor and a letter finding him guilty of "inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory" statements in class after he critiqued the term "wetbacks" in class discussion.
Ortner calls attention to FIRE's ad in U.S. News & World Report naming Brandeis and the other Red Alert schools as the "worst of the worst" campus censors. Media outlets continue to take notice:
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.
Such a black mark against Brandeis makes prospective students look elsewhere. Likewise, Ortner points out, members of the campus community have the issue in mind every time they consider speaking on any issue of import.
How many bright college bound students look at the [U.S. News] ad ... 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.
Of course, things don't have to be like this.
What makes this whole situation worse is that it could easily still be fixed. All that is necessary is a small admission on the administration's 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.
Ortner has hit the nail on the head. All Brandeis has to do to lose the dishonorable distinction of being on FIRE's Red Alert list and avoid all the bad press that goes with it is to reverse course with a simple action, embracing the legacy of its namesake Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: announce that Hindley is innocent of all charges, that due process and free speech are protected at Brandeis.
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.
We too are hopeful Brandeis will see the light of liberty. Until then, it will continue to feel the heat.