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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Admin demonstrates support for student body despite controversy

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: Editorials

Commencement is an annual tradition where graduating students are able to look back at their years at Brandeis with nostalgia and look ahead to their future plans. Students can celebrate surrounded by their loved ones and friends, who have been there every step of the way. This atmosphere would have been jeopardized if Brandeis had chosen to proceed with its original list of honorary degree recipients.

Brandeis withdrew their initial decision to commend Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her work on behalf of women across the globe after student and faculty protests. Hirsi Ali’s harmful public statements against Islam prompted a strong objection from a portion of the community, some of whom stated her presence at commencement would inspire them to walk out with their cap and gown in hand. Hirsi Ali would forever be linked to the university through receiving this honorary degree, both for the good she has done and the hurtful statements she has made.

No matter what decision the administration made on the matter, whether to still honor Hirsi Ali and disregard student concern or go back on their declaration, there would have be backlash. The university made a wise judgment in listening to the student body, when the large majority felt that Hirsi Ali’s presence would make them uncomfortable. Commencement is ultimately a day for students and their families to enjoy. It is a day to harvest the bounty of their hard work over the course of four years. It would be unfair if this day were overshadowed by someone sitting on the dais with whom many morally disagreed. The Hoot has highlighted past instances where Brandeis administration did not heed the wishes of the student body. This time, we are delighted that Brandeis responded in an appropriate manner and put students first.

However, the university should not have put itself in this situation in the first place. The fact that Hirsi Ali was able to move past the vetting process for honorary degrees without any of these abhorrent comments coming to light is inexcusable. This oversight would most likely not have happened in the past. In previous years, a faculty committee was consulted to inspect potential honorees, to ensure for certain that they were in good standing. This committee has since been disbanded. There is no question that this committee should be reinstated, with faculty members providing major input into the final decision. A petition signed by faculty members, addressed to President Lawrence, states, “We further urge you to reinstitute the past practice of a faculty committee that vets potential honorary degree recipients. Such a committee would surely have warned you about the horrible message that this sends to the Muslim and non-­Muslim communities at Brandeis and beyond.” The faculty have every right to be as enraged with this as do the students. They are also qualified to research potential recipients of the degree. As people who mostly hail from academia, they have backgrounds in research and analysis and interact with students every day. They can only help the process.

If anything can be learned from this incident, it’s that the Brandeis community is strongest when it works together, and the administration has no other option but to listen.