Friday, January 25, 2008

Press Release: ACLU of Massachusetts voices concern over punishment of Brandeis professor

BOSTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts joins with other free-speech advocates and the faculty union in criticizing Brandeis University for reportedly having punished political science professor Donald Hindley for use of the word "wetbacks" in his class. Hindley asserts that he used the term to demonstrate a pejorative word that has been and continues to be used to describe some immigrants to the U.S. The faculty union has condemned the university’s investigation, which failed to provide adequate notice to the professor about the accusations against him, to interview many witnesses, or provide a process for appeal.

The ACLU of Massachusetts supports the right of all students to equal educational opportunity. Severe, pervasive, or targeted harassment of a student based on race, national origin, or ethnicity can interfere with the ability of students to obtain an education and would violate our state and federal civil rights laws. However, incidental comments by a professor in class, even if offensive to some, do not constitute illegal harassment under the law, and imposing punishment on a faculty member for occasional comments significantly jeopardizes freedom of thought and academic freedom which are so integral to a university and the quality of education that students will receive there.

Students plainly have the right to complain about a professor, to raise their complaints with a professor, organize with other students to discuss with the professor their objections, and debate what has gone on. However, faculty members also have the right to a fair process when they have been accused of wrongdoing, and Brandeis appears to have denied that process to Professor Hindley.

We are also troubled by this incident because it comes after several other recent incidents at Brandeis in which the University administration’s initial impulse has been to shut down unpopular expression rather than affirm the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are integral to a university community. For example, the university closed down an exhibit of art by Palestinian children after complaints were made that the exhibit was not "balanced." Later, at the request of Brandeis' president, the university Committee on Exhibitions and Expressions investigated the matter and concluded that removing the exhibit was a mistake. More recently, the university was criticized for placing conditions on a speech by former President Jimmy Carter -- which he rejected -- because of complaints about his use in a book of the word "apartheid" to describe Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Although Carter later was permitted to speak, the incident was troubling in what it revealed about Brandeis's commitment to freedom of expression.

We urge Brandeis to retract the punishment of Professor Hindley and to send two messages to the community: that all students are entitled to receive an education at the university free from unlawful harassment, and that freedom of expression and academic freedom are critical to receiving a good education.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

what is the big deal here? This has been standard operating procedure for Universities for years. Does it bother you because these incidents shut down liberal issues and speakers? These incidents are minor especially when you compare it to the incidetns against conservatives that have taken place over the years. You people amaze me, you alowed the facist to grow in strength for years, and now your surprised because it is being turned against you.

Darren said...

A bit late, but welcome to the party.

Chris Ott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Ott said...

The ACLU does defend conservative speakers. Just to name a couple examples, we've defended the antigay Westboro Baptist Church, and we've even defended the free speech rights of Nazis:

http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/33239prs20071206.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Socialist_Party_of_America_v._Village_of_Skokie

But of Course! said...

Of course, racists and bigots are by definition conservative. Or was that post meant as sarcasm?

Anonymous said...

Chris Ott Said: "The ACLU does defend conservative speakers. Just to name a couple examples, we've defended the antigay Westboro Baptist Church, and we've even defended the free speech rights of Nazis:" Is is indicative of liberal thinking that Mr. Ott thinks these tow organizations are representative of conservative speakers. If you want to see conservatives look at the folks across the street who are conterprotesting the reprehensible folks from Westboro.

Chris Ott said...

Good point.

Mine was that the ACLU doesn't only defend liberal viewpoints, as the first comment suggested, or viewpoints that we like or agree with.

AJD said...

Wow! way to lump the Nazis and the crazies from Westboro church as "conservatives"!!!

No bias here

Dave said...

ButofCourse, we *must* identify RightThink. Anyone who does not practice RightThink (as demonstrated by practicing RightSpeak) is, by definition a conservative.

Wally Ballou said...

How long has the ACLU been touting that "we even defend nazis" meme? For Pete's sake, Skokie was 30 years ago. I would be a lot more impressed if the ACLU could point to cases of more recent vintage in which it stood for the rights of mainstream conservatives and cases of non-PC universtiy speech, not cartoon characters like the Skokie Nazis. If the ACLU were doing their job, we wouldn't need organizations like FIRE, who do the task the ACLU pretends to do.

Anonymous said...

"The ACLU does defend conservative speakers. Just to name a couple examples, we've defended the antigay Westboro Baptist Church, and we've even defended the free speech rights of Nazis"

some definition of "conservative"...

defending nazis- there's something to crow about.

Anonymous said...

"The ACLU does defend conservative speakers. Just to name a couple examples, we've defended the antigay Westboro Baptist Church, and we've even defended the free speech rights of Nazis"

Wow.

Are all ACLUers lefty demogogues or just the author of that gem?

Gordon said...

Come on folks. Credit where credit is due.

This Wingnut thanks the ACLU for standing with the Prof.

Anonymous said...

I'd respect the Mass. ACLU a lot more if they hadn't included in their press release an extremely tendentious account of the Carter incident at Brandeis. In brief, Carter demanded almost $100K in expenses to speak at Brandeis. Brandeis responded that if we're going to spend that much, we don't want this to be part of your book tour, but an academic event, i.e., a debate. Carter refused to debate. Brandeis said, then don't expect us to put up so much money. Where's the violation of free speech? Is Brandeis required by free speech principles to pay the equivalent of a junior professor's annual salary to have Carter speak for an hour to promote his book? Brandeis at all times made it clear that if whoever invited Carter raised the money, they were free to have him under whatever terms they wanted.

allen said...

And I'd respect the ACLU for noticing that there's more in the Bill of Rights then just the First and Fifth Amendments. It'd also be nice if the ACLU refrained from deliberately and consistently misrepresenting the Establishment Clause.