Brandeis Students Start Three New Organizations to Protect Their Rights
October 21, 2008
by Luke Sheahan
Students at Brandeis University are growing restless with concern for their rights—as they should be. This month marks a year since Brandeis University found Professor Donald Hindley guilty of "inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory" statements in alleged violation of Brandeis University's Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy after Hindley critiqued the term "wetbacks" in his Latin American politics class. As punishment, Provost Marty Krauss ordered him to attend anti-discrimination training and placed a monitor in Professor Hindley's classroom until she could determine that Hindley was "able to conduct (himself) appropriately in the classroom." Hindley was never presented with the evidence against him or allowed to offer a defense.
If this is how Brandeis University is willing to treat a professor of nearly fifty years without a single previous complaint on his record, students should be very concerned. The evidence indicates that they are. Over the last few months, two new groups championing student rights have emerged, and the student government has created a new student rights office. For those who value fundamental freedoms on campus, the groups have auspicious names: Advocates for Event Education and Police Instruction, the Office of Student Rights and Advocacy, and Brandeis Students for Free Expression and Academic Freedom.
According to The Brandeis Hoot, Advocates for Event Education and Police Instruction had its first meeting in September. Organization founder Seth Shapiro envisions the group "organizing events to promote awareness of student rights, as well as better community relations." Students may well need a better understanding of their rights if the Brandeis administration decides to treat its students as badly as it treated Professor Hindley. The group's creation demonstrates students' fear they will not get a fair shake from the university administration.
Second, Brandeis student paper The Justice reported two weeks ago that the Brandeis Student Union (the student government) changed the name of its Office of Student Conduct Advisors to the Office of Student Rights and Advocacy "in order to refocus the position toward students' rights, as opposed to issues within the University's Office of Student Conduct." Previously, the office's mission was more narrowly focused on helping students with matters such as conduct board hearings. Ryan McElhaney, Union director of community development, said that the office will now offer advice to students "who in any way...feel their rights have been violated." To meet this expanded mission, the new office will have four separate offices, one dealing exclusively with speech and protests. McElhaney remarked that the Union will work to insert a Student Bill of Rights, which the Union has had in the works for a while, into the Rights and Responsibilities policy. Again, it is clear that in the last year, Brandeis students have become more insecure about their rights, and are starting to do something about it.
The group most explicitly focused on free speech is Brandeis Students for Free Expression and Academic Freedom. The group's Facebook page (membership required) states that the group "unequivocally supports free speech in all forms...[and] opposes the knee-jerk PC reaction to free expression." The group will also push "for an environment in which students are encouraged to express ideas from all over the political spectrum." The group is non-partisan and "will be unapologetic in its advancement of diversity of thought and will attack any impediments to free expression, whether from the left or from the right."
The group's page lists four galvanizing issues on the Brandeis campus:
1) The incident involving Professor Donald Hindley, described above;
3) Brandeis' "Diversity Statement," which seems to commit the entire campus to a vague and subjective mission of "social justice," and
4) The 2007 incident that FIRE covered regarding the humor publication Gravity Magazine, in which the editors were pressured to resign over a satirical advertisement.
The group's description concludes with the following action statement:
Brandeis Students for Free Expression and Academic Freedom will not only condemn these abuses, but will work proactively to change the environment to one that welcomes diversity of opinion.
We at FIRE are thrilled to see students taking a proactive interest in their rights, but we regret that the Brandeis atmosphere has become so toxic that students have felt the need for so many new initiatives to protect their basic rights. FIRE's Campus Freedom Network was created to aid such students in their efforts to defend liberty on campus by providing educational opportunities and resources. Active students can earn awards such as books, BPA-free FIRE Nalgene water bottles, gift cards, and even an HDTV, a Macbook, an iPod and a digital camera through the CFN's incentive program. All college students and professors are invited to join. There is no cost, and every member receives a free FIRE t-shirt.