Faculty take action on free speech regulations at emergency meeting
Three proposed motions have been approved to be sent out for faculty vote.
Faculty members held an emergency meeting on Nov. 17 to further discuss the ideas that were brought up during the emergency faculty meeting last Friday, which met to discuss the derecognition of Students for Justice in Palestine. There was also an informal faculty discussion on the night of Sunday, Nov. 12 that had approximately 150 attendees. The purpose of this meeting was to consider the motions that groups of faculty members developed in response to these meetings and to decide if the motions needed any amendments to put to a faculty-wide vote next week.
The staff members that are eligible to participate in voting include all who are tenured, all non-tenured professors who hold at least half-time appointments for at least two semesters, the president, the provost, the dean of arts and sciences, the deans of professional schools, the University librarian, and the University registrar.
The meeting began with two procedural motions. The first motion highlighted the idea that all meeting materials, including the agenda and texts relating to proposed faculty legislations and actions, are to be considered — as well as all supporting documents — at least five days in advance of the faculty meeting. Faculty moved to waive this requirement, changing the five-day requirement to two days.
The second procedural motion that the faculty voted on was to waive a secondary reading. This motion also passed; however, it does not apply if the legislation has not been reviewed by either the Faculty Senate or a faculty standing committee.
The faculty then began to review the motions that had been submitted, starting with motion one. The preamble to this motion highlighted the Task Force on Free Expression’s five principles of free speech. These principles were constituted by President Liebowitz in 2016-17 and led by Prof. George Hall (ECON).
Principle one, titled “Maximizing Free Speech in a Diverse Community,” connects free speech with the desire for an inclusive and diverse community. They highlight that free expression includes the arts, talking and listening, and the exchange of ideas. This principle ends with the statement: “We endorse as a principle for action Louis Brandeis’ remark: ‘If there be a 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.’ The university has a responsibility to encourage the airing of the widest range of political and scholarly opinions and to prevent attempts to shut down conversations, no matter what their topic.”
Principle two is titled “Developing Skills to Engage in Difficult Conversations” and highlights the pride that Brandeis holds as a place where debates often occur. They explain that defining realms of prohibited speech causes the administration to have an effect on the general exchange of views across campus. This principle ends with the quote: “Reaching our fullest potential in this regard will entail an ongoing educational process, a curriculum that exposes students and the entire community to various viewpoints, and a long institutional memory about how free expression operates and has operated at Brandeis. All this will require the intellectual courage to risk discomfort for the sake of greater understanding.”
The third principle on this list is called “Sharing Responsibility.” It outlines that Brandeis community members themselves hold responsibility for the impact that their actions have and that potential disagreement can in turn lead to respect. They promoted working towards a campus life that was full of expression of many diverse political, intellectual, social, and cultural outlooks. The principle concluded with the quote: “The university must find ways to engage the whole community about each person’s responsibility to foster a just and inclusive campus culture, so that all can participate fully in the intellectual and social life of the university.”
The fourth principle titled “Rejecting Physical Violence” highlights the appropriateness of peaceful protesting in an environment of debate and discussion. It calls violence “unacceptable” and states that “once violence is normalized as an ingredient of free expression, it sets the pattern, ending rather than supporting free expression.”
The fifth principle on this list is called “Distinguishing between Invited Speakers and University Honorees.” It explains that the University should be a place for campus organizations of all kinds, however, this does not mean that the University is endorsing such speakers or organizations. This principle concludes, “However, there are certain circumstances, especially the granting of honorary degrees, in which an invitation issued by the university does constitute an endorsement of some major aspect of their life or work. A protest against the university for making a disfavored choice for a prestigious honor is not, in itself, an attack on free speech.”
A sixth principle was added to this set, one that ultimately placed restrictions on speech, even though this notion was originally left out by the original task force. This principle is as follows:
Institutional Restrictions: The freedom to debate and discuss ideas does not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish, or however they wish. In narrowly-defined circumstances, the university may restrict expression, as for example, that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the university.
This principle was enacted on Nov. 10 to restrict the use of certain expressions, even though it directly contradicts the previous principles created. As of Nov. 20, the Justice has been unable to confirm who this principle was enacted by.
The unedited version of this motion stated: “We move that the Provost and the Senate together establish a new Task Force on Free Expression in order to come up with a set of recommendations for how to revise and reinterpret the Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression. The Task Force shall also issue recommendations for what the appropriate consequences are for a violation of these principles. (For instance, whether they ought to include disciplinary action by the University or the involvement of campus or city police.) Like the original task force, the reconstituted version shall have a broad representation of students, faculty, and staff.”
This motion was introduced to the faculty by Prof. Laura Miller (SOC), who also read the preamble and provided context. She started her three minutes by stating, “Let me begin by saying very explicitly that I myself am not here to defend or oppose any particular language or slogan. For the group of us who worked on this motion, the point is to figure out how to develop a framework for speech on campus that is fair, transparent, and consistent because right now it is not.”
She highlighted the pivotal issue to be the “inherent conflict” between principle six and the other five. “In addition, the sixth principle contains no process for determining what constitutes a genuine threat to other people, and it leaves unstated what sanctions or consequences may occur for violations of speech restrictions,” she continued.
In correspondence with the Justice on Nov. 18 Miller stated, “I think recent events have shown that there is no consensus at Brandeis on how speech should be regulated. And like others, I am deeply distressed by the use of police force on campus last week, as well as the more general conflict and divisions we are seeing among members of the Brandeis community. I want to see the University develop a better process, one that is broadly recognized as fair, transparent, and consistent, for governing speech, including any consequences that may follow for violations.”
During this correspondence, Miller also explained that there are no specific candidates in mind for the task force. She felt that many on this campus are qualified and highlighted that the motion “specified that the Provost and Faculty Senate work together to establish this task force so as to draw on their collective knowledge to select a broad representation of students, faculty, staff, and potentially, outside experts on the issues to be discussed.”
Discussion then occurred regarding the 2016 task force and the possibility of reinstating it. The faculty ultimately came to the conclusion that since it has been completely disbanded, a completely new one should be created while holding the same commitment to diverse representation.
Prof. James Haber (BIOL) spoke in favor of this motion, explaining that he believes that this is unrelated to the concept of whether or not the Brandeis logo and name should be removed from a student organization or not. He finished out his time by reading a statement made by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “The commitment to free expression includes hearing and hosting speakers, including those whose views or opinions may not be shared by many members of the MIT community, and may be harmful to some. This commitment includes the freedom to criticize and peacefully protest. Speakers to whom one may object, but it does not extend to suppressing or restricting such speakers from expressing their views.”
Interim Dean Maria Madison of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management then spoke, stating that subject matter experts need to be included in any task force created. She explained that these experts could be either from inside or outside of the University, but are necessary and should be funded by Brandeis.
Prof. John Plotz (ENG) took the floor, explaining some issues that he found in regard to the principles as previously stated. He highlighted that the administration directly violated principle four by using physical violence; however, under principle six the violence is justifiable. Plotz emphasized the sentiment that these principles directly contradict with one another.
Prof. Lynn Kaye (NEJS) took a moment to share with the faculty both personal experiences and concerns that she has for all students while speaking in favor of the task force. She highlighted that both Palestinian and Jewish students can be considered traumatized populations since both are frequently placed in situations that can worsen trauma. She explained that expressing empathy for all of them is necessary. According to Kaye, there are many experiences that Palestinian and Jewish students have faced that are unknown by faculty. She emphasized that these communities are very important to keep in mind.
Upon further correspondence with the Justice on Nov. 19, Kaye stated, “I suggested that the committee was necessary because of the delicate balance that I, and other faculty recognize, between cultivating an environment at Brandeis where we can exchange views and be free to disagree, even passionately, about important things, and also be mindful of maintaining a learning, living, and working environment for the entire Brandeis community, with all of its diverse sections. A committee can help guide us to ensure that the university makes opportunities for free expression that we desperately need, in order to learn from one another.”
Prof. Leonard Saxe (NEJS) followed up Kaye’s statements in the meeting by sharing another personal story regarding the dangers of antisemitism and the safety of Jewish community members. He spoke in support of the previously stated principle six, explaining that he felt limits to be necessary when it comes to safety.
These conversations continued with professors speaking in support of the task force, calling on both personal experiences and how they believe the task force should be handled. Ultimately, a faculty member called the meeting back, asking if anyone had objections to the motion because the attendees were deciding if the concept of a task force should be put up for a vote, not becoming the the task force themselves.
The Stuart H. Altman Chair in U.S. Health Policy Karen Donelan then spoke up not against the motion but suggesting an amendment. She stated: “This motion looks like a task force in perpetuity, and therefore, I'm left to wonder how useful this task force would be in this moment. I have a student that was arrested; I have a student whose uncle died for the Israeli army and that's right now. And so I'm interested in how we can find a way to move forward in these moments.” Donelan stated that a boundary regarding when this would happen would be a positive change.
Prof. Amy Singer (NEJS) then spoke, highlighting the concerns that she felt regarding the lack of information shared. She explained that the faculty didn’t know how SJP came to be dechartered nor did they know who contacted the police. Singer was concerned by the phrasing of “the University” and its power to restrict expression. When contacted by the Justice on Nov. 17, Singer stated; “As for "the university", number six of the Free Speech principles as listed on the Brandeis website says, "The university may restrict expression" but does not specify who, in such instances, is intended by "the university." There is no definition as to whether this means a single person in authority, a standing committee from among the university leadership or an ad-hoc body convened for the purpose.”
She also highlighted the fact that principle six was added without the consultation and deliberation of the carefully crafted task force, and brought up the idea that they did not have the power to stop this from happening again.
Singer explained that before moving forward with the motion, the faculty should focus on more carefully defining these restrictions and the process in which they can be executed.
Upon further correspondence with the Justice on Nov. 17, Singer said, “The role of the faculty is formally defined in different parts of the university handbook. We fulfill different roles connected with teaching, advising, mentoring, and taking on different administrative roles or serving on university committees. How much power we do or don't have depends in part on the formal roles we are playing and our own individual personalities. As you can see, there are many subjective aspects to the role of the faculty in the University.
"We are hired primarily to be scholars and teachers. Overall, I think we take both of those roles seriously. As I indicated above, 'teaching' includes standing up (or sitting) as instructors in classes and labs; advising on undergraduate and graduate research; mentoring students in different ways; informal conversation with students; supporting career & professional development; cheering at sports matches or applauding at performances, if we choose; and being available in times of crisis to answer questions and help students think through the meaning of what is going on around us. Different people among us are more inclined in one way or another so that we are a very diverse community.”
Prof. Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) then spoke, highlighting the idea that Brandeis as a university is bound by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, one that bans intimidation and harassment. As a federally funded university, federal laws apply no matter the vote of the faculty. He also spoke of a letter sent to faculty detailing the experiences of a Jewish student during the Nov. 10 protest and arrests, one who felt an immense amount of anxiety and fear.
Motion One was amended as follows: “We move that the Provost and the Senate together establish a new Task Force on Free Expression in order to come up with a set of recommendations for how to revise and reinterpret the Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression. The Task Force shall also issue recommendations for what the appropriate consequences are for a violation of these principles (for instance, whether they ought to include disciplinary action by the University or the involvement of campus or city police.) Like the original task force, the reconstituted version shall have broad representation of students, faculty and staff. The task force shall include subject matter experts both internal and external if needed, with the latter being funded by the University. The task force shall deliver its report by the end of the academic year. Finally, the task force shall focus attention on the tension between principle six and the other principles.”
The faculty voted to send this motion as amended out to be voted on by the faculty in this upcoming week.
The faculty then moved on to Motion Two, officially proposed by Prof. Plotz and Prof. Susan Lasner (ENG), but consulted on by many faculty members. This motion is as follows: “We move that the Administration commission a thorough independent investigation — to be shared with the Brandeis community in written form by March 1, 2024 — of its decision-making, communications, and other consequential acts leading up to and including the events of November 10. The inquiry shall include close examination of the police actions on that day, process around police presence and training, and factors such as public statements and confidential decision-making by the administration that may have contributed to an escalation of tension. The Senate shall participate in defining the scope and charge of the investigation and in choosing outside investigators capable of addressing all relevant issues; the charge will include proposed remedies that may help avoid similar incidents in the future and alleviate harm caused when similar situations occur.”
When contacted by the Justice for further comment on Nov. 18, Lasner stated, “We have both short-term and longer-term goals. First, we want to see an investigation that is truly independent of the administration, since the administration was responsible for certain decisions made on November 10. To ensure that independence, we asked that the Faculty Senate be involved in determining the terms and scope of the investigation and selecting the investigators. Second, we set a timeline so that the investigation is undertaken expeditiously and completed by March 1, 2024, with a written report to the university community. Third, we asked that the investigators recommend remediations that the university can undertake so that we do not have another situation such as the one that occurred on Nov. 10.”
Minimal debate occurred regarding this motion that was officially presented to the faculty by Lanser. A vote occurred, and the faculty voted in favor of sending the motion to a faculty vote next week.
Motion Three was presented to the faculty once again by Miller. This motion stated: “We move that, until and unless a university committee comes up with a process that the faculty approve by vote, Brandeis ends its restrictions on or prohibitions of speech of any kind during public demonstrations or protests organized by members of our community and which occur on our campus.”
She then followed the reading of this motion by stating a preamble: “This motion speaks to the issues of speech that we've been discussing this afternoon, but at its heart is a desire to prevent escalation of conflict and outsize punishment, so that we don't find ourselves engaged in emergency gatherings over and over and over again. There's currently enormous anxiety among many students, faculty, and staff on this campus, because they do not know what repercussions they might face for speaking on various topics, or uttering various words. While this climate of fear and uncertainty extends to numerous spaces at Brandeis, the motion at hand addresses a more narrow set of circumstances. Public demonstrations on campus protests are by definition occasions for dissent, that is their purpose. Participants often yell things, they show defiance.
I think I can say with confidence that everybody here wants to ensure the physical safety of students, staff, faculty, and visitors at Brandeis. but restrictions on speech acts when those restrictions do not have widespread legitimacy increase, rather than decrease, volatility. They are counterproductive, and can lead to the situation we saw last week, whe[n] students and alumni engaging in peaceful protests, were ordered to disperse on the basis of their speech, and were then subject to arrest and the use of physical force by police, and therefore we are calling on the Brandeis administration. And this is advisory to end. Its prohibitions on speech of any kind at public protests and demonstrations again on campus organized by members of Brandeis University until the time that we, as a faculty, agree that the University has developed a fair and transparent and consistent process for determining what if any limit should be placed on speech.”
This motion immediately faced questioning from multiple professors, both in the room and on Zoom. They stated that it needed additional clarification, potentially pulling from the preamble. They also raised concerns regarding the potential of empowering those intending to use hate speech to harm others. Additionally, they acknowledged that there is a lot of information regarding the recent situation that is still unknown.
Many faculty members felt uncomfortable with the blanket statements made in this motion and highlighted the idea that it needed much clarification.
This conversation had to come to a pause as the meeting had run out of time. They then took a vote to extend the meeting an additional half an hour for a total of two hours, which needed to be unanimous to pass. This vote was not unanimous. Another vote occurred to suspend the rules and extend the meeting, this vote required a two-thirds majority and did pass. The meeting was extended.
Prof. Bernadette Brooten (NEJS/WGS) was the next to speak regarding an amendment to Motion Three, highlighting the idea that the University is not able to unilaterally declare anything as per regulation.
In further correspondence with the Justice on Nov. 17, she stated: “The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI, reads: 'No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.'
"Brandeis receives Federal financial assistance in the form of research grants, etc.
"This year, the federal Department of Education (DOE) interpreted Title VI to include (Dear Colleague Letter sent to President Liebowitz and other school presidents, principals, and the like on 11-7-23): "those who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian.”
"In faculty meetings and elsewhere, I keep insisting that Brandeis follow its own policies and proper procedures, which the DOE likewise wants, e.g., 'The existence of both a policy and grievance procedure applicable to racial harassment (depending upon their scope, accessibility, and clarity, and upon the acts of harassment) is relevant in the determination of agency capacity. A policy or grievance procedure applicable to harassment must be clear in the types of conduct prohibited in order for students to know and understand their rights and responsibilities.'"
The faculty then voted to table Motion Three for the next meeting faculty as they wanted to get to Motion Four during the meeting that had already been extended, and believed that more amendments were needed before it could be put up for a vote.
Before Motion Four was brought to the floor, Plotz called on university administrators to acknowledge that they are open and receptive to the proposals that faculty members were curating.
President Liebowitz was unable to attend this meeting and Provost Fierke wasn’t feeling well. She sent a chat via Zoom that stated, “I think that the administration (president and cabinet) is willing to work with the faculty in implementing the motions that have been voted on positively.” When contacted for further comment by the Justice on Nov. 19, Provost Fierke stated, “I understand that three proposals have been moved forward for consideration by the full faculty; this continues to be a faculty-led process for now.”
Motion Four was co-created by Prof. Darlene Brooks Hedstrom (NEJS) and Prof. Jody Hoffer Gittell (Heller), the moderator of this meeting. Gittell presented this motion to the faculty, explaining how she had not been informed of decisions made by the administration. The preamble to this motion also highlights that this lack of information does not allow faculty to be as strong of a resource as they could be for students as a result. The motion is stated as follows:
“We move that Student Life and other administrative offices share any communications with the faculty when they communicate with students during periods of uncertainty.”
Prof. Lisa Lynch (Heller) made a friendly motion to amend the language to include both faculty and staff in this motion, as they can all be a resource for students. This amendment was immediately seconded and made.
Some concerns were also brought up regarding the broadness of the word “uncertainty.” Much discourse occurred regarding the specific wording of this statement; however, there was not much debate regarding the intentions of the content itself. Multiple amendments were made to this motion. The final motion was as stated:
“We move that Student Life and other administrative offices simultaneously share with the faculty and staff any communication with students about decisions that will have significant impact on student life.”
The faculty voted on this amended motion and it passed, meaning it will be sent to faculty for a vote next week.
The meeting was adjourned following the approval of three out of four amendments to be sent to the faculty for an official vote next week.