Realize past mistakes; apologize to Hindley
Published: Monday, April 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 08:04
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Brandeis is one of the worst universities in terms of promoting free speech, a finding that was published in the Huffington Post last week.
The Huffington Post list, compiled by Greg Lukianoff, the president of FIRE, explains that Brandeis is on the list because of an incident involving Prof. Donald Hindley (POL) in fall 2007, when he used the word “wetbacks”—a derogatory term for Mexicans illegally in the U.S.—in his Latin American Politics class.
After Hindley’s remarks, the University placed a monitor in his classroom and did not allow him a hearing.
According to FIRE, these actions signaled a violation of his academic freedom.
I must admit, I was surprised to find Brandeis on this list, as I have never felt that Brandeis restricted free speech at all throughout my four years here.
I have always found that both professors and students are at liberty to voice their opinions.
So, I decided to do a couple of Google searches trying to find any indication of the event and the administration’s reactions online.
What I found was basically what the Huffington Post article explained, along with a couple of letters from FIRE to then-University President Jehuda Reinharz urging the administration to apologize to Hindley.
I was still in high school when Hindley was repudiated for making his remarks and had scant knowledge of the incident until this week.
Consequently, I do not think I am the proper person to assess whether he or the administration were right in their actions. I can read past coverage on the issue and have done so, but since I was not on campus, I am simply not in the position to judge or make an informed opinion about the matter.What I do think, however, is that the University needs to lay this issue to rest by issuing Hindley a formal apology because its refusal to do so has negatively impacted our institution.
How can a school that prides itself on a mission of inclusivity and justice appear intolerant towards members of its own faculty?
While it seems the administration’s actions toward Hindley may have violated his academic freedom, we should not be defined by an incident that happened four years ago.
I confidently believe a majority of students would refute Lukianoff’s analysis, claiming that the University does and has promoted free speech both inside and outside the classroom.
Remember the outcry over the decision to bring Michael Oren as commencement speaker?
Or the protests over the decision to close the Rose Art Museum?
Free speech and academic freedom were alive and well in both situations.
In fact, I believe students were reprimanded by sources outside the University, not the administration, for voicing their opinions.
I fear that if the administration does not apologize to Hindley, this one incident will overshadow all of the instances that embody appreciation of First Amendment rights, consequently giving the University a false image in the public arena.
It is not always beneficial to be swayed by public demands, but I think in this case it is the right thing to do to preserve the school’s reputation, particularly its emphasis on social justice.
While Lukianoff acknowledges that Reinharz failed to defend Hindley’s academic rights, he hopes “that the new administration will put this incident behind it and finally expunge the harassment finding against Hindley or, at the very least, explain that no such incident would happen at Brandeis again.”
While I disagree with Lukianoff’s assessment of Brandeis’ suppression or stance of of first amendment rights overall, I agree with him on this matter.
University President Fredrick Lawrence is a preeminent scholar on hate crimes and First Amendment rights, a position that is emphasizing his failure to issue a response to this matter.
Since Lawrence assumed the position of president a year ago, he has implemented several changes and programs that have placed the University in a positive light, like settling the lawsuit over the Rose Art Museum and reopening the Linsey pool.
Lawrence and the new administration should now turn their attention to this pressing matter. The administration needs to apologize to Hindley in order to simply put the matter behind them so they can be respected for their commendable protection of academic freedom.