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ACLU statement criticizes Provost

Published: February 1, 2008
Section: Front Page, News

Both the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Provost Marty Krauss issued statements last week about Prof. Donald Hindley. Last semester, Hindley was ordered to take “anti-discrimination” training by the Provost after allegedly making “inappropriate, racial and discriminatory” statements.

“I am well aware that many of you are concerned about the investigatory process and outcome following a complaint by a student last semester against a member of our faculty,” Krauss wrote to the faculty on Tuesday.

“As a member of the faculty and as an administrator,” she wrote, “I share with all of you the goal and expectation that our university policies reflect our core values of academic freedom, the right of our students to a learning environment that is free of harassment, and the right to privacy in personnel matters.”

Krauss defended her decision about Hindley, calling the matter “closed.” Adding “the university is legally required to have a non-discrimination and harassment policy,” she said the university’s harassment policy and investigation procedures were “were substantially revised in 2006, following extensive discussions with the Faculty Senate.”

While stating again that she would not comment to the media regarding the case, alleging that “misrepresentations of the investigatory process and outcomes are now widely circulated in the media,” Krauss did allude to dissenting views from members of the faculty, including the Committee for Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, who issued several opinions in December criticizing the Hindley investigation and the Provost’s definitions of harassment. “Some of you have expressed confusion concerning what constitutes racially harassing speech and how the university conducts a legally required investigation. As a community, we can all agree that this confusion is not healthy and that we must work together to understand both our legal and academic responsibilities.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education issued a reply to Krauss’ letter on their web site. FIRE argued that the Provost has given varying numbers of student complaints, ranging from a singular student—as mentioned in her Tuesday letter—to three students, which she told the CFRR after receiving their first opinion.

Furthermore, FIRE said, “Krauss’s definition of harassment, as used against Hindley, bears no resemblance to the federally related offense of ‘harassment.’ The policy, as applied, was overbroad and a violation of Hindley’s academic freedom.”

Their statement also criticized the “confusion” Krauss mentioned as “a direct result of Krauss’s and Simone’s actions, as well as the actions of Burg and others along the way.”

Citing a letter from the Office of Civil Rights, FIRE accused the Provost of making her decision based on a faulty interpretation of federal law: “Regulations should not be interpreted in ways that would lead to the suppression of protected speech on public or private campuses. Any private post-secondary institution that chooses to limit free speech in ways that are more restrictive than at public educational institutions does so on its own accord and not based on requirements imposed by OCR.”

Finally, the American Civil Liberties Union, joining civil liberties groups such as FIRE, issued a statement criticizing the university’s handling of the Hindley case.

While “severe, pervasive, or targeted harassment of a student based on race, national origin, or ethnicity can interfere with the ability of students to obtain an education and would violate our state and federal civil rights laws,” the ACLU wrote Jan. 25, “incidental comments by a professor in class, even if offensive to some, do not constitute illegal harassment under the law, and imposing punishment on a faculty member for occasional comments significantly jeopardizes freedom of thought and academic freedom which are so integral to a university and the quality of education that students will receive there.”

The ACLU said that while students “plainly have the right to complain about a professor… faculty members also have the right to a fair process when they have been accused of wrongdoing, and Brandeis appears to have denied that process to Professor Hindley.”

The ACLU also chastised Brandeis for “other recent incidents… in which the university administration’s initial impulse has been to shut down unpopular expression rather than affirm the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are integral to a university community,” citing controversies such as the removal of the “Voices of Palestine” art exhibit in 2006, and the university’s decision to invite former President Jimmy Carter to debate Alan Dershowitz in 2007.

While Hindley could not be reached for comment, he alleged in an e-mail to the Concerned listserv that the Provost’s statement was part of “the Administration’s campaign to destroy me for my outspokenness – and thereby intimidate others…like earlier statements by the Provost and lesser minions in the case, it has a very shaky relationship to truth.”

“We urge Brandeis to retract the punishment of Professor Hindley and to send two messages to the community,” concluded the ACLU statement. “That all students are entitled to receive an education at the university free from unlawful harassment, and that freedom of expression and academic freedom are critical to receiving a good education.”

Ephraim Rinksky ’09, who has taken a course with Hindley, commented, “I agree with the criticism of the Brandeis administration…the school’s obsession with political correctness blinded them.”

“Brandeis is widely recognized as an open place for debate,” said Gideon Katsh ’09, “so it really reflects poorly that we’re being criticized by the ACLU.”

Alison Channon contributed to this report.