WASHINGTON, DC—Reacting to the unresolved controversy surrounding the censure of Brandeis University political science professor Donald Hindley, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has called on the Brandeis Board of Trustees to take steps to ensure the free exchange of ideas.
In its February 12 letter, ACTA asked the board to “confirm the University’s adherence to the principles of academic freedom, to apologize publicly to Professor Hindley,” and to withdraw sanctions imposed by the administration.
ACTA’s letter comes in the wake of a decision by the Brandeis administration to sanction Professor Hindley for supposedly violating Brandeis’s Non-Discrimination and Harassment policy.
According to a piece in Inside Higher Ed, late last year the administration conducted an inquiry into Professor Hindley’s in-class explanation of the term “wetback,” after anonymous complaints. Hindley has said he was explaining that the term is often used pejoratively to describe Mexican immigrants.
The administration determined that Hindley made statements in class that were “inappropriate, racial, and discriminatory.” As a result, Professor Hindley had a monitor placed in his classroom, was ordered to attend “anti-discrimination training,” and was even threatened with termination. The monitor has since been removed from his classroom; however, his fate at Brandeis is still uncertain.
“The essence of a university experience should be the free exchange of ideas,” ACTA’s letter said. “However, it appears that administrators have arrogated the right to censure and disapprove of ‘controversial’ comments—in the guise of protecting people’s sensitivities—and to deny professors their right to engage in legitimate discussion in the classroom.”
To avoid future controversies, ACTA recommended that the Brandeis board consider several options for advancing academic freedom and intellectual diversity generally. These suggestions, taken from ACTA’s 2005 report Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, include:
Commissioning an institutional self-study or outside review of the condition of the free exchange of ideas on the Brandeis campus;
Incorporating respect for intellectual diversity and dissenting opinions into institutional statements and activities on diversity;
Eliminating any speech codes that restrict the freedom of speech;
Including intellectual diversity concerns in university guidelines on teaching; and
Amending hiring, tenure, and promotion guidelines to protect individuals against discrimination on the basis of viewpoint.
“While it would be inappropriate for trustees personally to pursue these efforts,” the letter noted, “it would be most appropriate for the Board to insist that the president and administration take the steps necessary to ensure that such a gross violation of academic freedom and First Amendment rights never occurs again.”
ACTA is not alone in raising concerns. The Brandeis Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities has objected to the administration’s actions, as has Brandeis’ Faculty Senate. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has also written to the Brandeis board to raise concerns about free speech rights, due process, and academic freedom on campus.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. Its network includes alumni and trustees from more than 600 colleges and universities across the country, including Brandeis. ACTA has issued numerous reports on higher education including The Vanishing Shakespeare, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.