Red Alert: Brandeis University

By February 25, 2008

Today, Brandeis University joins FIRE’s Red Alert list, a distinction afforded to colleges and universities that act with severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of their students or faculty members. In the case of Brandeis, the university’s mistreatment of Professor Donald Hindley and subsequent shameless attempt to sweep the incident under the rug earn it a spot on the list.

In his fall 2007 course on Latin American Politics, Professor Hindley allegedly used terms that at least one student found objectionable. Brandeis has steadfastly refuseddespite multiple requeststo disclose to Hindley in writing precisely what offended the complaining student(s). According to Hindley, however, he explained to his class that Mexican migrants in the United States are sometimes referred to pejoratively as "wetbacks." After a flawed investigation, Hindley was informed by Director of Employment Jesse Simone that he was guilty of making "statements in class that were inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory," and that he thus had violated Brandeis’s non-discrimination and harassment policy. As punishment, Provost Marty Krauss threatened Hindley with termination and placed a monitor in his classes.

The university’s treatment of Hindleya nearly 50-year veteran of teachingoutraged Brandeis’s faculty. The Faculty Senate met in emergency session about Hindley’s case on November 8 and strongly faulted the administration in a unanimous resolution. The Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities also issued a series of scathing reports on Hindley’s case, concluding that the Provost’s decision should have been withdrawn, that administrators abused the definition of harassment as well as their own power in order to punish Hindley, and that Hindley’s rights to fair treatment and academic freedom had been violated.

FIRE wrote to Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz on December 12 and issued a press release about the case on January 23. The case received widespread media attention, including from the Associated Press, Inside Higher Ed, The Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald. Concerned alumni also contacted Brandeis. Jay Bergman, a professor at Central Connecticut State University and an alumnus of Brandeis, wrote to Provost Krauss that "[t]he reputation of your universitywhich is mine as welldepends on" Brandeis taking the necessary steps to rectify the situation, including apologizing to Professor Hindley.

In spite of all this, Brandeis has remained utterly unrepentant. On January 7, 2008, Krauss wrote to Hindley, stating that "the University now considers this matter closed"without a hearing, without apology, and with the outrageous suggestion that Hindley, not Brandeis, was the offending party. FIRE believes that students’ and faculty members’ rights are still in serious jeopardy at Brandeis. It is truly unbelievable that the university has, for more than four months now, refused to acknowledge that it mishandled the case, let alone apologize to a veteran professor who was humiliated and mistreated for nothing more than engaging in free speech, which Brandeis explicitly promises to protect.

For more information about this truly outrageous case, visit FIRE’s Brandeis case page or listen to our newly released podcast on the topic.