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Suppressing free speech is Reinharz’s legacy, not fundraising

Special to the Justice

Published: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 12:11

A recent Boston Globe article has rightfully ignited a firestorm regarding the compensation of former University President Jehuda Reinharz. It is shocking that Reinharz received over $600,000 in 2011 for helping the University transition to a new president—even though Reinharz was on sabbatical throughout the year.

It is likewise baffling that despite increasing student tuition and debt by over $10,000 dollars since I started at Brandeis, Reinharz earned around $300,000 each year from 2012 to 2014 even though he is not required to teach classes, oversee graduate students or participate in department meetings. In The Globe article, Reinharz explained that his pay was justified as his reward for past achievements, including improvements to the University’s academic reputation.

Unfortunately, Reinharz ignores one of his more dubious accomplishments as president of the University—landing Brandeis University on the list of “Worst of the Worst” protectors of liberty on campus by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. In 2011 and 2012, students reading U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges and Universities issue and considering where to apply were faced with full page ads declaring that Brandeis had “displayed a severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of their students and professor,” and that students looking to apply to Brandeis should “[T]hink twice before applying.”

Brandeis undoubtedly merited its placement on the list due to its shameful treatment of Prof. Donald Hindley (POL), deplorable treatment of its Faculty Senate and continued lack of remorse. Hindley was accused of racially harassing a student after he discussed and critiqued the origin of the term “wetback” as part of a “Latin American Politics” class. Rather than dismiss the complaints as unfounded, the University shamefully investigated and ultimately placed a monitor in Hindley’s class and ordered him to attend sensitivity training. Hindley was not given a written account of the charges or allowed to defend himself in violation of University policy. As a result of the uproar including a class walk out, protests in front of the administrative building, a scathing publicity claim and strong support by students and faculty, sanctions were not imposed on Hindley. However, the accusation and charge of racial harassment still remain on Hindley’s record.

Sadly, by placing prominently on FIRE’s list of the “Worst of the Worst” abusers of liberty, Brandeis University betrayed the legacy of its namesake. Along with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice Louis Brandeis revolutionized freedom of speech in America. Together, they powerfully dissented from the majority and supported the speech rights of unpopular religious minorities, suspected communist sympathizers and other unpopular groups. In his powerful concurrence in Whitney v. California, Brandeis declared: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such, in my opinion, is the command of the Constitution.”

Certainly, allowing for discussion and debunking of the origin of a term like “wetback” is what academic freedom exists to protect. A University committed to “Truth, Even Unto Its Innermost Parts” cannot expect such a searching inquiry to occur without occasional misunderstanding or even offense.

Indeed, according to the Student Rights and Community Standards website, part of the mission statement of Brandeis is that “The university that carries the name of the justice who stood for the rights of individuals must be distinguished by academic excellence, by truth pursued wherever it may lead and by awareness of the power and responsibilities that come with knowledge.” By failing to protect the rights of Hindley, and even years later refusing to apologize, Brandeis under Reinharz’s administration revealed that its commitment to freedom of expression is limited to politically correct discourse. Reinharz’s actions twisted the academic integrity of the University beyond recognition.

The Reinharz administration’s callous disregard during the Hindley affair well embodied many of the failures of his presidency including the removal of Palestinian artwork, efforts to discourage former President Jimmy Carter from coming to campus and shameful handling of the proposed closing of the Rose Art Museum. During the Hindley incident as in each of these other events, President Reinharz never apologized or admitted he was at fault. Despite deteriorating relationships with students, alumni and the faculty over the handling of the Hindley affair—leading to a two-year shut down in the hearing of grievances by the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities—Reinharz refused to budge or to apologize.

Unfortunately, it is his arrogance and disregard for the opinions and rights of students and faculty, rather than achievements in fundraising, that will be Reinharz’s legacy. Whether or not he remains on Brandeis’ payroll, the University can still right its wrongs towards Hindley and get off FIRE’s “Red Alert” list. All it has to do is apologize to Hindley, or even simply declare that a violation of the due process and free speech rights of one of its professors will in the future not occur. These are not extreme demands, but simply what decency and ethics demand. After all, a university named after Justice Brandeis should do everything in its power to be a friend of liberty and freedom of speech.

—Daniel Ortner ’10 is a former Forum editor of the Justice and was a summer intern at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education in 2009.  

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