On Tuesday, April 9, the University community received an email from Executive Vice President for Administration and Finance Stewart Uretsky and Provost Carol Fierke. This email shared the completed report compiled by independent investigators from the law firm of Hirsch Roberts Weinstein that reviewed the Nov. 10 arrest of demonstrators protesting the derecognition of the Brandeis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. 

According to the email, “the investigation reviewed actions taken by Student Affairs and Brandeis University Police Department with respect to the day’s protest, and made recommendations where opportunities existed for policy or procedural improvement to align with best practices in higher education.” 

The report explains that the protest took place on the Great Lawn for 30 minutes before the chants of the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” began — a phrase that had been banned earlier that day when it was classified as “threatening and harassing speech” by the administration. According to the report, some of the individuals utilizing this phrase were not Brandeis community members. A representative from administration then spoke to a gathering organizer, “[advising] that those chants violated the University’s prohibition calls for violence against others.” The organizer was advised that if the chants continued, “the protest would be required to end.” 

Upon continuation, the administration representative determined that protest dispersal was necessary. According to the report, law enforcement present called for the dispersal of the crowd four times, but the protesters did not comply. One of the organizers of the event refused to disperse and was placed under arrest. According to the report, while this arrest was occurring, two more arrests took place when the individuals detained threw liquid and punches at the officers. While attempting to transport these individuals to a vehicle for transport to the station, others “interfered with police efforts and/or, in the case of nonaffiliates, refused to leave campus.” They were ultimately arrested as well.

Two interviews were conducted through the process of this independent investigation. The subjects of these interviews were Chief of University Police Matthew Rushton and University Vice President of Student Affairs Andrea Dine. The report states that Dine was the university administrator on scene at the time of the protest.

The independent investigation also consisted of a community listening session held on Feb. 2. This session was conducted by the faculty senate and a redacted transcript was provided to the reviewers on Feb. 7. The members of this session were undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and members of staff.

This transcript was considered by investigators along with a list of other items as seen in the report. These included “Department of Student Rights & Community Standards, Section 7; Campus Protests and Demonstrations Rights and Responsibilities Department of Student Rights and Community Standards Brandeis University; Brandeis University Police Department Use of Force Policy; Brandeis University Police reports; Waltham Police reports; Closed Circuit Television Footage; Social Media Videos; Web Pages” and more.

The report illustrates that Dine expressed that while it is not required for students to inform administration of protests in advance, it is recommended that they do so. This allows the University to complete three main objectives: “to assist in planning to facilitate safety for demonstrators exercising their speech rights,” “to assist in planning to facilitate bystander safety and protection of property” and “to assist University affiliated demonstrators to navigate compliance with the University’s protest requirements.” The report goes on to outline the many ways that the administration learns about upcoming protests and states. It states, “When Student Affairs becomes aware of a pending protest, staff members offer the students organizing the demonstration a meeting to discuss their rights and responsibilities under the Protest Policy, but students are not required to meet with administrators regarding planned protests.” 

The report continues on to discuss the reasoning behind the Nov. 10 protest, citing an email from President Ronald Liebowitz that was sent while derecognizing the Brandeis chapter of SJP. Following this announcement, University administration was made aware of student plans to hold a protest led by the de-recognized group. The report states “Prior to the November 10 protest, the BUPD received information indicating that members of National SJP’s leadership were scheduled to fly from New York to Boston. At that time, neither the University, nor the BUPD specifically, were aware of any other National SJP events scheduled in the area, other than what appeared to be the large-scale protest at Brandeis being planned for November 10.” This is followed up with a statement implying that the administration had no choice but to assume that these individuals were planning to protest on the Brandeis campus.

Following this section, the report describes an email that was sent to the Brandeis community on the morning of Nov. 10 that was co-authored by Dine and Rushton. This email identified phrases that would be seen as threats and emphasized that participants from outside the Brandeis community were not allowed on campus. The email also explained that security measures had been increased. Additionally, they attached a link to the University protest policy, available on the Brandeis website. The email concluded with the statement, “we anticipate that our community will respect the rights of others while exercising their own rights.”

In advance of the protest, the University administration made arrangements for the Waltham Police Department to be present alongside BUPD. The report also detailed the presence of “contract security personnel (i.e., non-sworn security).” These professionals were present to “assist with checking participants’ identifications to confirm that the participants were University affiliates.” The number of increased security was said to be a response to “the potential size of the demonstration, the likely presence of non-affiliates (including potential opportunists seeking to agitate or provoke events that draw media or social media attention), and the potential need for multi-jurisdictional resources.”

According to the report, “despite a growing administration concern about potential escalation in the event outside parties joined the Protest on campus, the Brandeis administration planned to take a largely passive role in observing the protest.” However, the report listed out reasons why they assumed this protest would be different than others previous including “the University had declared that specific statements likely to be made at the Protest constituted threatening or harassing speech,” “the University had credible information indicating the presence of outsiders, not only in response to the underlying Israel-Hamas Conflict, but also in response to the derecognition of the Brandeis SJP,” and “campuses across the country were seeing an increase in the number of protests resulting in physical hostility between demonstrators, counter-demonstrators, and others.”

The analysis section of the report was summarized with the statement: “This Review answers two questions: (1) whether Student Affairs’ actions in its response to the Protest, including its determination that the Protest should be dispersed were consistent with the University’s stated rules concerning protests; and (2) whether the BUPD’s actions in dispersing the Protest were consistent with University policies and industry best practices, and where force was used, whether it was necessary and appropriate under the circumstances.” A part of this analysis section detailed that there had been confusion surrounding topics such as why police were present as displayed in the community listening session. It went on to further develop why administration and law enforcement were in the right, justifying actions taken against Brandeis community members and non-affiliated event attendees and the results that followed. 

The report concluded with a list of recommendations for the University based on the evidence observed during the investigation. This list included is as follows:

  • “The University should consider requiring more direct communication with protest organizers in advance of a protest.”
  • “The University should direct communications regarding protest concerns in a more timely and widespread manner.”
  • “The University should consider assigning an administrator who is not the Vice President of Student Affairs to assist with protests.”
  • “The BUPD should not co-author messages articulating speech policy to avoid creating the impression that the contours of free speech are established by law enforcement.”
  • “The University should communicate with the community regarding the rationale underlying police presence on campus, specifically with respect to demonstrations.”
  • “The BUPD should work to better leverage its website and social media in the effort to build its police-community bond.”
  • “The University should explore methods to enhance its ability to screen for nonaffiliates at future protests.”
  • “The University should consider posting signage advising non-affiliates that their presence on campus will be deemed trespassing.”
  • “The University should ensure that all BUPD officers receive biennial crowd control response training.”
  • “The University should consider discontinuing use of contract security to assist in crowd dispersal.”
  • “The University should consider adopting procedural guidelines for responses to campus disturbances that reflect operations during the Protest.”
  • “The University should provide coordinated interdepartmental training on responding to incidents occurring during a campus protest.”

The Revolutionary Students Organization has collaborated with SJP in the past and has supported them as they have been de-chartered. They have also held protests in support of Palestine since Nov. 10. When asked about how the report has affected the students in their organization and how they planned on moving forward in an April 13 correspondence with The Justice, they stated “The report only serves to remind us of the university administration's willingness to lie, as well as its lack of regard for both the truth and the safety of its students. We plan to continue and deepen our efforts on campus to pressure the University to stop supporting the Zionist occupation and the genocide it is committing against Palestinian people.”

This concept of misinformation was a common theme when speaking with Brandeis community members. However, misinformation can mean many things. Prof. Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) explained that he is in support of the report. In an April 11 exchange with The Justice, Sarna stated, “The report reveals how much misinformation circulated at the time that the incident occurred and was discussed by the faculty and in the media. Many faculty refused to believe that the demonstration was orchestrated by outside forces, and they denied that the police had been attacked. Now we know better. The faculty who spoke out in condemnation of law enforcement and the administration owe both a deep apology. Let's hope that lessons will be learned and that justice will be served.”

The community has also expressed concern regarding the choice of law firm that the University hired to complete the investigation. In an April 12 exchange with Prof. Naghmeh Sohrabi (HIST), she told The Justice “Considering the financial straits we're in right now and the cost of hiring the law firm HIRSCH ROBERTS WEINSTEIN LLP (which specializes in, among other things, defending universities against Title IV accusations), it's hard not to wonder if the money wouldn't have been better spent on an investigation that was also interested in helping the University protect the rights of its primary stakeholders — its students — to express themselves without the looming threat of arrest by various police forces on their own campus.” At a faculty meeting on April 12, Liebowitz informed the Brandeis faculty that the University is three million dollars in deficit, five million lower than the two million increase that was expected.

The specific content of the report was also questioned, as community members expressed concern regarding the specific focuses of the report. Sohrabi stated “It seems like a missed opportunity to not have had an investigation where the paid investigators interviewed more than just two people and were thus able to suggest alternatives to policing at a time when our student body is engaged with difficult real world issues on our wonderfully diverse campus.” In an April 13 exchange with The Justice, Prof. Laura Miller (SOC) stated “I was disappointed that so much of the Hirsch Roberts Weinstein report focused on university communication and so-called optics rather than recognizing serious divisions on campus about substantive university policies regarding speech, protest events, and police presence on campus … Relatedly, the report evaded the question of what actions could have been taken to de-escalate tensions on November 10th, and in the future, when students do not comply with contested university policies. The last thing I would want to see is the normalization of arrests as a means to deal with demonstrations, whether ‘unruly’ or not.” Some felt that the report provided a simplification of events and perspectives that was problematic. This idea was confirmed by a statement made to The Justice by Prof. Bernadette Brooten (NEJS/WGS) on April 15. She stated, “In the face of what the International Court of Justice and a U.S. Federal court have deemed to be a plausible claim of genocide in Gaza, the Brandeis administration prohibits words that it claims call for “violence, death, or annihilation.” This narrow report simply accepts the administration’s claim, finding almost all subsequent actions to be justified. History will not look kindly on all who silenced opposition to the destruction of Gaza and its people.”

The conclusion of the email sent on April 9 discusses how the university administration is moving forward following the release of the report. It states “the recently convened Presidential Task Force on Free Expression will be examining and making recommendations for changes or improvements to our current Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression, as well as the processes and protocols Brandeis uses to apply those Principles to our academic and co-curricular activities. This Task Force is expected to submit its recommendation no later than December 31, 2024.” While Brandeis has implemented many task forces in the past, this one has been supported by many community members. Miller states “The report did identify what I view as the crux of the problem, which is the process for determining restrictions on speech. However, this statement was buried in a footnote and the reviewers explicitly declined to weigh in on whether that process is currently fair or reasonable. My hope is that processes for determining the boundaries on acceptable speech at Brandeis, and how they are applied, will be more thoroughly reviewed by the newly formed Presidential Task Force on Free Expression.” While the investigation has concluded and the report has been released, the events of Nov. 10 are still garnering mixed reactions and current actions across campus.