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Why we must defend Hindley

Published: November 9, 2007
Section: Opinions


By now it is probably a clich to compare Donald Hindleys situation with that of Josef K. the protagonist of Franz Kafkas The Trial. Like Josef K., Hindley stands accused of unspecified crimes which and is subject to the judgment of a mysterious tribunal. Hindley himself lent us a more apt metaphor when he described the proceedings against him using the same language with which he denounces autocratic Latin American and Southeast Asian governments in his classroom: authoritarian, secretive, and personalist.

Hindley stands accused of making racist remarks in class. It is difficult to talk about Hindleys case in any detail since the content of these remarks remains a secret known only to his accuser and a few administrators;

however, anyone who has ever taken a class with Hindley understands a few facts quite clearly. Firstly, Hindley discusses race in a direct and candid manner which is altogether uncommon among most white professors. Secondly, Hindleys comments are often deeply offensive, not because Hindley himself is a racist, but rather because he refuses to sugar-coat racist discourses. On the contrary, he forces his students to face the content of racist narratives head on. One of Hindleys pedagogical methods for achieving this is to ironically adopt the persona of a racist.

Personally, Ive found this sarcastic method extremely effective in demonstrating both the bile and the absurdity of such racist claims. Nevertheless, I understand how some people might find it inappropriate for a white professor to make such statements, even ironically;

however, that is a dispute for students and faculty to solve through rational dialogue, not one for the administration to settle in secret inquisitions.

This is the crux of the whole Hindley affair. Unlike that outcry against racism in Gravity last semester, the protests against the homophobe Brian Camenker two years ago, or any number of other movements against hate speech on campus in the last few years, the attack on Hindley is not primarily student led. This is troubling because while student efforts against hate speech are necessarily open and visible to the public, the administrations are shrouded in mystery and silence. We have no basis for deciding whether the administration is going after Hindley because they are, in Marty Krauss words, extremely concerned for the welfare of the Universitys students or if they simply seized upon the opportunity to punish an outspoken socialist and steadfast critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

So far, the administration is acting in extremely bad faith. They are monitoring Hindleys class and forcing him to take sensitivity training, but I dont think these actions are motivated by a concern for students welfare. Krauss himself stated that the sensitivity trainer will assess [Hindleys] ability to conduct classes without engaging in inappropriate . . . conduct. This leads me to believe that the class monitor and the sensitivity trainer are little more than excuses for the University to collect more information about Hindley which they can use when they try to fire him.

If, in fact, there are racist professors on campus, then it is the job of us students to deal with them. Unfortunately, this administration, with its history of banning controversial art exhibitions and trying to prevent controversial speakers from coming to campus, cannot be trusted to fight our battles for us. It will be a terrible blow to the cause of anti-racism if a non-discrimination policy is used to remove a professor not because he is a racist, but because he holds leftist political opinions with which the administration disagrees.

If students ever organize a protest or direct action campaign against a racist professor, Ill be there. In the meantime, it is my duty and the duty of every student to defend Hindley against this insincere assault from the administration.