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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Stifled speech called out

Published: April 5, 2012
Section: News

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a list of the 12 worst colleges for Free Speech on March 27, which featured Brandeis in the top three. The list was released on the Huffington Post’s website and, among others, it included Harvard, Tufts and Yale University. The FIRE’s list of the worst colleges for free speech brings up an issue integral to Brandeis University and its commitment to social justice.

FIRE, according to its website, aims to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” It annually releases a new list of colleges that it deems offensive to free speech. According to FIRE, Brandeis University earned a place on the list due to an incident four years ago where Professor Donald Hindley (POL) allegedly “explained to his class that Mexican migrants in the United States are sometimes referred to pejoratively as ‘wetbacks,’” according to an article on the FIRE website. After the controversial investigation by the administration, FIRE added Brandeis to its list because “Brandeis’ contempt for Hindley’s rights severely alienated many among Brandeis’ faculty and students.”

Many students, however, were surprised by Brandeis’ inclusion in FIRE’s list. Though many Brandeisians have not encountered violations in free speech concerning racism, some say they face it in the realm of politics. As Brandeis is largely liberal, there is a risk that more conservative students may feel alienated by the views of their professors and peers.

Daniel Goulden ’14, a founding member and president of Brandeis Chapter of Amnesty International says he has never experienced any problem with the administration concerning free speech. Concerning the Hindley case, Goulden said, “I think banning free speech is always a terrible idea. I think that when you have offensive speech, what you should do instead is open up a discussion about it, rather than banning it.” He believes that Hindley’s comments were taken out of context and that there was an overreaction on the administration’s part. Concerning alienation due to political views, Goulden said, “I don’t think it’s the administration’s responsibility to keep professors in line with their own ideas. Professors have a right to their political opinions and this has been historically true.”

Jake Weiner ’13, president of the Brandeis Democrats, added, “The one area where you might run into people actually being prejudiced is Israel. Israel on this campus is a very divisive issue and I don’t feel that necessarily all viewpoints are represented.”

Goulden agrees that Israel is one of the more polarizing issues on the Brandeis campus. “I’ve noticed when it comes to social justice clubs there is a lot of fear on the part of the student body to really take action,” he said. Goulden attributes this fear partly to the ferocity of the Israeli-Palestinian debate, which makes many students wary of student activism; additionally, many activism efforts get lost in the fray. He says, “There is such a pressure on Brandeis to be so accepting, that we end up being almost afraid of activism and social justice because of the Israel issue.”

“It’s not even suppression, clearly groups have a right to say things, but it’s the tactics that they use,” remarks Weiner.

For most Brandeis students, it is not the administration that is the biggest hindrance to free speech. Instead, it is the students and occasionally the professors. Mary-Alice Perdichizzi ’12, the president of The Brandeis Tea Party Nation, has experienced free speech violations personally. When putting up flyers for various Brandeis Tea Party Nation events, she has come back to find that some flyers have been ripped down or deliberately posted over. She admits, however, that these are cases of a few individuals and not necessarily representative of the entire Brandeis community.

FIRE lists the case of Hindley as the main reason that Brandeis University was included in the list. The incident, however, occurred in 2007 and since then there have been many changes in the Brandeis administration. Since then Brandeis has installed Frederick Lawrence as president and seen the arrival of new provost Steve Goldstein.