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Why so Mad, Huffington Post?

Published: April 5, 2012
Section: Opinions


The Huffington Post recently published a list of schools that lack free speech, even though the online newspaper claims to uphold the opposite stance. The rankings from Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) do not include schools that deliberately tell you certain freedoms of speech will be restricted. In these cases, you can’t complain because you know the restrictions. How did Brandeis, however, manage to make it on the list?

In 2007, Brandeis accused Professor Donald Hindley (POL) of using a racist slang term in one of his classes. The university decided that he was guilty of racial harassment and discrimination and began to have an administrator monitor his classes.

Why does it matter? Brandeis never gave him a formal hearing or a written document setting out his charges, according to FIRE. The university never gave him the chance to explain his side of the story or give any context to the situation.

This is, by its very virtue, similar to when younger children begin to learn about curses and thus ways to use them without getting in trouble. “Hell,” given that is it a religious location or idea, is often exploited. When a young child first uses the word “hell,” his parent or guardian will naturally chastise him for using poor language. When this child learns that hell actually has multiple uses and meanings, he will use the word constantly, but then defend himself by saying it is just a place and not a curse.

Where do the differences lie between our “racist” professor and a bit of my childhood? First, Hindley was not attempting to aggravate any administrators for attention or annoyance; he was teaching the material of his course. Sometimes words with negative connotations must be used. Few of us could fully understand the most egregious injustices and horrors of history without hearing offensive words that accurately depict the environment of the era.

In an academic circumstance, censorship only hurts those who are learning the material. Sheltering us will not help us learn.

Many Brandeis community members have seen the university’s process for dealing with delinquents, whether it is being written up for a small or a serious issue. The process is well-constructed and focuses on having the student understand why they committed their specific action. It focuses on how to prevent it from happening again in the future. The process is constructive. What was given to Hindley regarding why all of these charges and monitoring began? Nothing. No documentation, no explanation. And that is the sad.

We are a university that sanctifies social justice—the idea that you can be the change you want to see if you put in the effort and passion. Both staff and students alike disagreed with the treatment of Hindley, according to The Post. They would like some explanation that free speech will not be restricted in the future—an affirmation of our commitment to foster academic and intellectual growth. Yet five years later, nothing has happened.

Social Justice? It sounds like we need to change a few mottos or acknowledge why we’re wrong.