Former FIRE Intern: Brandeis Must Reform Its Ways to Get Off Red Alert List
September 29, 2009
by Luke Sheahan
Former FIRE intern and Brandeis University student Daniel Ortner published another excellent op-ed in The Brandeis Hoot last week (his previous op-ed about free expression and other problems at Brandeis is here). In the article, Daniel specifically criticizes the Office of Student Rights and Advocacy (OSRA) for asking FIRE to remove Brandeis from FIRE's Red Alert list. Daniel writes:
One would think that with a title like Office of Student Rights and Advocacy, this newly reconstituted Student Union organization would be concerning itself with righting the many abuses of student rights and trust that I wrote about extensively a few weeks ago. Indeed, I naively wrote that the increased visibility of this organization was a promising sign that students would be asserting their rights on campus to a greater degree. So, imagine my shock when OSRA director Lev Hirschorn ‘11 approached me in Usdan last week and informed me that one of the first actions taken by the committee this year was to write an e-mail to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education arguing that Brandeis should be removed from FIRE's Red Alert list because of our excellent record of protecting student speech rights!
Student Union President Andy Hogan ‘11 and OSRA director Lev Hirschorn among others argued in their e-mails to FIRE that the referendum passing of the Student Bill of Rights and the success of students in bringing controversial activist Bill Ayers to campus are indicators that all is well at Brandeis, that the administration is clearly supporting students' rights, and that FIRE should take Brandies off its "worst of the worst" list.
We appreciate that OSRA has reached out to us, and we look forward to working with OSRA to get Brandeis off FIRE's Red Alert list. As Torch readers know, however, Brandeis is not on FIRE's Red Alert list for violating students' rights but for the university's deplorable treatment of Professor Donald Hindley. Daniel explains:
There are several major problems and inconsistencies with this train of logic. The first is that FIRE put Brandeis on its Red Alert list because of a specific and yet to be resolved case. Indeed, FIRE has a very visible article with a specific web link featured in a recent ad run in both the Justice and The Hoot, saying exactly what Brandeis must to do to get off the Red Alert list. These actions directly concern the case of Donald Hindley. While I have written much about the Hindley case, the lack of resolution continues. Harassment is still on Hindley's official record, and the substantive dispute between the Faculty Senate and the administration was at best glossed over. Indeed, the lack of faculty involvement in the lead-up to the initial announcement to close the Rose Art Museum clearly showed that a proper balance between faculty and the administration had yet to be struck. Yet, despite these underlying problems, all the Brandeis Administration has to do to get Brandeis off the Red Alert list is acknowledge that Hindley's due process rights were abused and remove the letter that declared him guilty of making "inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory" statements in class. It really is as simple as that.
Daniel then lists other problems with the Brandeis administration's handling of various student and faculty affairs, many of which he outlined in his op-ed a few weeks ago. He further explains that the administration has so far not actually changed its policies in accordance with the Office of Student Rights recommendations in the Student Bill of Rights. The Brandeis administration continues to trample students' rights, as Daniel relates:
[S]tudents were able to get Bill Ayers to campus, but this was only after the administration attempted to impose an outrageous security fee and to censor speech in that fashion. We are too quick to forget the removal of Palestinian artwork several years ago, or the embarrassment the administration brought to Brandeis over its response to Jimmy Carter's visit. Has anything actually changed in those few years? Has the administration ever admitted it acted wrongly in any of these instances? Has a statement protecting the rights of students and faculty ever been clearly articulated by the administration?
Substantially, it comes down to this question: Have any measures been put in place that could prevent the administration from charging another student or professor with "harassment" based on hearsay evidence or from violating clearly stated due process rights? What we have today is at best a truce, a ceasefire, and certainly not something worth bragging about. Rights protected out of convenience and without force cannot truly be declared rights at all.
Make no mistake, FIRE would love for Brandeis University to live up to the name of the great Supreme Court Justice and champion of free speech Louis Brandeis and to respect student and faculty rights so that we can remove Brandeis from our Red Alert list. But until the Brandeis administration changes its ways and clears Professor Hindley of its finding of guilt, it will retain its shameful place on FIRE's Red Alert list.