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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Attorney explains harassment laws

Published: September 26, 2008
Section: Front Page

Attorney Daryl J. Lapp taught Brandeis faculty members about issues of anti-discrimination law at a faculty meeting in Golding yesterday.

The talk, which was organized by Provost Marty Krauss comes almost one year after Prof. Donald Hindley (POL) was charged with violating the non-discrimination and harassment policy after having made allegedly racist remarks in his class and consequentially had to have his class monitored.

While Krauss neglected to answer questions of whether the faculty meeting was in response to the Hindley controversy, she said that she organized the speaker when “many faculty told me that they wanted more information about the legal definition of discriminatory speech and how they law has been applied in various cases.”

Hindley, however, believes that the meeting is directly related to last year’s controversy, writing in an e-mail sent to the “concerned” listserv Tuesday;

“The Brandeis Administration has unilaterally hired a lawyer to enlighten us on ‘the legal definition and boundaries of racially harassing speech and the implications of case law on this subject.’ This appears to be part of the Administration’s attempt to justify the unjustifiable: its outrageously unjust, cruel and faculty-scorning behavior in ‘the Hindley case’ – and its discriminatory behavior in other situations.”

Krauss, however, called the talk “a great learning experience for all of us.”

Lapp, whose work includes the defense of universities against personal injury, civil rights and employment discrimination claims, agreed and said “I thought it was a great conversation. People were engaged.”

Prof. Jacob Cohen (AMST), who listened to the talk, said, “insofar as one could extrapolate from the specific cases…the particular case that seems to interest us seems to have been mishandled,” referencing the Hindley case.

Faculty senate chair William Flesch (ENG) agreed that the issue had to be addressed: “The faculty isn’t quite sure what to think. It’s certainly the case that there is a great deal of concern about what’s impermissible and why.”

Accordingly, faculty members were able to ask questions of Lapp to clarify any uncertainties they had about discrimination in the classroom. The majority of faculty was appreciative of this opportunity. “The comments were, ‘thank you, this has really been helpful,”’ Krauss said.

Lapp covered the basics of anti-discrimination laws. As outlined in a packet he distributed to faculty, which was obtained by The Hoot, “The university is required to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws as a condition of federal funding.” This includes funding for financial aid programs.

In addition, he explained that the “First Amendment applies only to public institutions…The limits of employee speech in a private institution are essentially a matter of contract law.” This means that “private institutions may choose to regulate employee speech that might be protected at a public institution.”

Still, as Lapp detailed, although academic freedom is not “a legally protected right,” it remains “an interest that courts have recognized and weighed.”

Faculty senate member Prof. Sabine Von Mering (GER), after listening to Lapp, acknowledged that she learned much from Lapp’s discussion of the differences between laws for private and public schools. Still, she remained unsure as to the extent to which his examples compared to actual situations: “The examples he brought up all seemed rather crass. My suspicion is that in most cases, the harassment is more subtle.”