EDITORIAL: Protect professors’ free speech rights
This July, many Brandeisians may have been surprised to see a fellow classmate, Daniel Mael ’15, publishing the contents of a long-running faculty listserv on Breitbart.com—the springboard for an outpouring of media attention from online publications such as the Washington Free Beacon, the Daily Caller and TruthRevolt. Selections from the “Concerned” faculty listserv, in which professors commented on subjects ranging from Israel to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s potential commencement appearance, contained some offensive and inflammatory remarks. In a letter to faculty in response to these remarks, University President Frederick Lawrence characterized the remarks as “anti-Semitic epithets, personal attacks, denigration of the Catholic faith, and the use of crude and vulgar terms in discussions about Israel.” Over the summer, students, alumni and parents proceeded to mull the question: To what level of respectful discourse must we hold faculty?
While hate speech and derogatory remarks should certainly not be endorsed or protected by the University, a professor’s right to free speech does not expire when they enter the campus gates. A university is a place for the free exchange of ideas, and only serious transgressions merit the interruption of that exchange. In this sense, it is a good thing that Brandeis employs a faculty with a broad range of opinions and ideas—as long as those opinions and ideas do not diverge into hate speech.
Unfortunately, some of the “Concerned” emails crossed that line. We urge the community to join us in condemning those remarks, and rather rededicate ourselves to respectful debate.
Our support for free speech extends to both faculty and students. Both have a right to a safe space at Brandeis to express themselves; there must be room for dissent and respectful discussion. We hope those faculty who regularly contribute to the “Concerned” listserv understand this necessity.
While this board regrets that such remarks, made by a handful of faculty members over several years, has caused immediate pain and damage to the University as a whole, we applaud Lawrence’s response. And, in the spirit of free speech, we agree with his statement that “it is necessary for us all to take responsibility for debating and challenging opinions with which we disagree in a full, open, civil and decent manner.” We invite our fellow students to knock on their professor’s door and do just that.