pageok
pageok
pageok
Saying "Jehovah" at Brandeis?

Let's briefly recap the situation: A professor is found guilty of "racial harassment," apparently because he mentioned the term "wetback" in class. He says he wasn't trying to be offensive towards Mexicans or Mexican-Americans (illegal immigrant, legal immigrant, or otherwise), but was merely discussing and condemning some people's attitudes towards them. The student who apparently complained hasn't been quoted as squarely disagreeing with him, but perhaps she does.

The university refuses to publicly say what it thinks the professor said. Is it missing the use/mention distinction? Is it imitating Monty Python? Does it take the view that both using (in the sense of endorsing the message of) and mentioning (in the sense of quoting or describing) the word "wetback" is racial harassment? Does it conclude, as a factual matter, that the professor actually used the term, rather than just mentioning it? Even if he did use it, is he found guilty of racial harassment because he expressed an idea using epithets, or because the idea he expressed — and is Brandeis's view that the racially harassing and therefore prohibited idea is hostility to Mexican-Americans, hostility to Mexican immigrants, or hostility to Mexican illegal immigrants?

No-one knows. No-one knows what is and is not allowed for Brandeis professors who teach controversial subjects. No-one can sensibly evaluate the merits of Brandeis's professor speech code. That's what critics of Brandeis have been saying.

Now here's the response from Brandeis's Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs:

7:51 a.m. January 29, 2008

Dear Faculty Colleagues,

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. As a member of the faculty and as an administrator, 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.

As you know, the University is legally required to have a non-discrimination and harassment policy. Our policy and investigatory procedures were substantially revised in 2006, following extensive discussions with the Faculty Senate. These procedures instructed the investigation conducted last semester and that case is now considered closed. Because of our obligation to ensure confidentiality, I have been unwilling to comment publicly about this case, despite the misrepresentations of the investigatory process and outcomes that are now widely circulated in the media.

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. I have been and will continue to work with the Faculty Senate Council regarding programs for the faculty that increase our internal capacity for understanding diversity issues.

I am saddened by the pain that our community has experienced recently and I want to open up channels for constructive dialogue. The spirit and specifics of our current policy reflects thoughtful discussions between the faculty and university administrators. I expect that such conversations will continue to inform this and other university policies in the future.

Sincerely,

Marty Wyngaarden Krauss
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Ah, you'll surely say — now everything is fine! The confusion is unhealthy, and the community's pain is saddening, but the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs will work with the faculty regarding programs that increase everyone's internal capacity for understanding diversity issues. Not only that, but she'll open up channels for constructive dialogue (though apparently not about this incident, since this case is now considered closed).

Look: This is an issue that goes to the heart of Brandeis's role as a center for learning and teaching, and its credibility as a center for learning and teaching. And the University's response is that the "case is now considered closed," and no further information is forthcoming (except perhaps through future "programs that increase our internal capacity for understanding diversity issues"). Nor is the confidentiality argument plausible — the question is what the university thinks the professor (who has spoken publicly on the matter) said in class in front of many students.

Is it really so much to ask the university to reveal this one simple factual finding? Or is the university worried about what this factual finding will say about it and the rules that it is actually applying?

sbron:
So if a Professor rants about "inherited white privilege"
could that likewise be construed as racial harassment?
If so, I'd guess half the faculty at a typical
institution would be under "investigation."

Could the following conference be in and of itself
considered harassment?

http://www.uccs.edu/~wpc/
1.29.2008 2:01pm
qwerty (mail):
What have the Romans ever done for us?
1.29.2008 2:04pm
M. Python:
Sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health.
1.29.2008 2:12pm
Temp Guest (mail):
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Because of our obligation to ensure confidentiality, I have been unwilling to comment publicly about this case, despite the misrepresentations of the investigatory process and outcomes that are now widely circulated in the media.

Conclusion: Big Brother is more concise, more honest, less devious, and has less gall than the administration of Brandeis University.
1.29.2008 2:22pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
Once a professor said to me "I have a test for you about bias and liability. Analyze it and bring it back, please." I reported him because his statement include the letters "I ... ha...te....b..l...a...c...k...s." I am white but this was still wildly offensive. He was forced into reeducation camp and now I drive a hemp-powered Ferrari.
1.29.2008 2:35pm
Hayek:
I'm a senior at Brandeis, and my feeling is that the administration was using this as an excuse to nail Hindley. The guy is very old and has been around forever; I don't think he's published much lately and my feeling is that they want to make room for someone else. I took a class with him and it was obvious that he wasn't very fond of Jehuda Reinharz (the university president) so he may have had some run-ins with the administration in the past.

Also, I don't see how anyone could have taken what he said to have been offensive. In the class I took with him he did use some words that might be inappropriate/offensive out of context, but not in the way they were used in class. That's just part of his style.

It's really terrible that the university is embarrassing itself like this by taking advantage of a whiny student to silence an academic who, by any standard, hasn't done anything wrong.
1.29.2008 2:53pm
Kevin R (mail):
Sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health.


Well, yes, but other than that?
1.29.2008 2:54pm
Bruce:
No-one knows. No-one knows what is and is not allowed for Brandeis professors who teach controversial subjects. No-one can sensibly evaluate the merits of Brandeis's professor speech code.

Why are you hyphenating "no one"?
1.29.2008 2:54pm
Hoosier:
"It is terribly regretable that the media have misrepresented the facts that we refused--and will continue to refuse--to make public. But stop talking about it, because you're wrong, and it's over."

So . . . if this were any OTHER sort of corporation, would we find this an acceptable report from the CEO to the employees on a labor issue? (I'm presuming Brand-X is incorporated in Mass.)
1.29.2008 3:08pm
Smokey:
George Orwell explains the letter from Marty Wyngaarden Krauss:
''The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies--all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; ; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.''
1.29.2008 3:22pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Bruce: Because I like to. Both forms are standard (see, e.g., this dictionary entry). Why are you asking me why I'm hyphenating "no-one"?
1.29.2008 3:23pm
Elliot123 (mail):
How are trustees or board members selected at private universities? What do they do? Do they do anything? Are they packed with university employees? I really don't know, have no experience with non-profits, but observe that the Duke board of directors sat on its hands while everything went to hell. Now, I wonder about Brandeis. Are these boards just powerless figureheads, or do they have the power to act? Is it unfair to expect anything from them? In these circles is it considered poor form to force common sense on the employees?

Who is chairman of the board at Brandeis? What does he have to say about this? It would take about five seconds for the press to call the chairman of Exxon in a similar situation.
1.29.2008 3:27pm
Smokey:
No-one is a lot better than noone, which I've noticed several times lately.
1.29.2008 3:28pm
ejo:
what is it about the academics here that makes them so amazed when things like this occur-they happen at every university, major or otherwise, quite often with the support of the academics plying their trade at the institutions. frankly, the babe in the woods stuff from current profs gets a little old.
1.29.2008 3:29pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Bruce might have been curious. I don't remember ever seeing the hyphenated form elsewhere either.

Anyway, I agree with you about the need for transparency. But the use-mention-as-a-shield idea (and I know you're not suggesting use-mention is a shield, per se) reminds me of this sketch.
1.29.2008 3:35pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
ejo: I'm not amazed that this is happening; I'm just outraged. Nonetheless, my sense is that a university's discipling a professor for allegedly "racially harassing" in-class statements is not common. I've seen some similar incidents (for instance, the Silva and Cohen cases, which involved statements that were labeled "sexually harassing"), but rather few. Can you point me to the details of other such incidents that I might have missed? I try to keep up to speed on such things.
1.29.2008 3:42pm
k parker (mail):
Elliot123,

My impression of academic boards is that they're pretty much captive creatures of the administrations, Dartmouth being (or perhaps, and quite sadly, formerly being) a notable exception.
1.29.2008 3:50pm
AF:
Nor is the confidentiality argument plausible — the question is what the university thinks the professor (who has spoken publicly on the matter) said in class in front of many students.

Professor Volokh, you seem to be assuming that confidentiality is an ex post decision made by Brandeis. If it were, your arguments would be valid. But since it is a preexisting policy, it is perfectly reasonable for the university to stick to it. Many discrimination complaints are sensitive, and both accusers and accused benefit from confidentiality policies ex ante. The university is not obligated to abandon its confidentiality policy whenever its benefits seem less clear ex post. In any case, it may well have made confidentiality commitments that it is not free to break.
1.29.2008 3:51pm
Dan Weber (www):
AF, confidentiality surely protects the identity of the complainant.

But does it stop Brandeis from saying whatever the professor did wrong? Because that's what we're trying to figure out.
1.29.2008 3:54pm
Richard A. (mail):
No single text explains life quite as completely and succinctly as the screenplay to "The Life of Brian."
1.29.2008 4:04pm
Bruce:
Why are you asking me why I'm hyphenating "no-one"?

Q the Enchanter is correct: I was curious. I thought it was archaic, and thought perhaps you were purposefully using an archaic form for some reason. I checked a dictionary before posting and it didn't list "no-one" as an alternative.

There should be a different punctuation mark for "this is a genuine question" vs. "this is a snarky criticism posing as a genuine question."
1.29.2008 4:17pm
Hoosier:
ejo--There are some stupid things that happen regularly at universities. But I'm not sure that this sort of thing happens all the time.

Academics are often PC to the point of silliness. But they are also committed to rank and its privileges to a degree that would make a Prussian Army officer blush. So it's still a surprise to me any time that a university's administration decides to force a professor out when there are no gross violations being alleged.

This university forced a truly mad tenured professor out many years ago. But they had to wait until he told some members of the basketball team that "I have to buy you guys a watermelon." (Quote) Then they had him dead to rights. And even then, they bought him out on early retirement.

So now I know at least one thing that I can't say to my students. Which gives me an advantage over my learned colleagues at Brandies.

(And, yes, he was a leftist. But not a PC leftists, it would appear. He must not have gotten the memo.)
1.29.2008 4:27pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"These procedures instructed the investigation conducted last semester and that case is now considered closed. Because of our obligation to ensure confidentiality, I have been unwilling to comment publicly about this case, despite the misrepresentations of the investigatory process and outcomes that are now widely circulated in the media."

Thus Krauss says that he can't tell us what the professor said because the matter is "closed" and would evidently reveal the identify of the complainer. Would he tell us if the case were not closed? It seems to me that the Brandeis can always invoke these escape clauses in future cases and continue its undefined censorship of professorial speech. Krauss' position reminds me of the Soviet Union where the penal code was a secret of state (See The Gulag Archipelago). If you asked to see the penal code, the government would ask, "Are you planning to commit a crime?"
1.29.2008 4:36pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Bruce: Thanks for clarifying, and good idea on that punctuation mark!
1.29.2008 4:36pm
ejo:
I see the point-such things are usually targeted at students/student groups, not professors. they can hold most any bizarre opinion and voice those opinions. I guess my post was directed to the speech codes that crop up at universities all across the country and are directed at students, not tenured radicals.
1.29.2008 5:04pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Some of you have expressed confusion concerning what constitutes racially harassing speech and how the University conducts a legally required investigation. Here at Brandeis we prize confusion and ambiguity. We'll know what it is when the time comes. Just remember, don't harass, or we'll have your ass.
1.29.2008 5:19pm
Tom M. (mail):
Note that the use of no-one seems at best to be controversial:
e.g., here, here, or here but it shows up without comment in dictionary.com. However even there it has only two entries while x-ray, a clearly accepted usage, shows up with 15.
1.29.2008 5:34pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
The real question for me how it comes to be that highly intelligent faculty members will allow themselves to be governed by people who are capable of writing the kind of nonsensical trash that comes from Krauss. Actually, the faculty choose to be governed by such people.

Once I tried to protest against a "white paper" that our provost had written, not because it was politically problematic, but because it was incredibly long and filled with slogans, while containing almost no real content. It was embarrassing. Everyone I spoke with agreed with my criticisms, but no-one thought it was worth complaining about. We create these monstrosities ourselves.
1.29.2008 5:42pm
ejo:
if you have tenure, why should you care what the administration is doing? these administrators are screwing up the social contract by actually going after a faculty member-will the professors there rebel or simply go on chewing their cuds and collecting a paycheck? any bets?
1.29.2008 5:46pm
Master Shake:
EV, I think you're great and love your posts, but defending "no-one" slightly reminds me of when you defended George W. for "I'm the decider."
1.29.2008 5:56pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
EV, Tom M.: The Economist, quoting in one of your links, rightly labels this a question of house style, as some such questions are. In my house, or specifically in this room of my house (I don't insist my cobloggers follow me), the style is generally to hyphenate, partly because I like it better and partly because I'm used to it.
1.29.2008 6:39pm
Habeas Clerk:
Ah, life is often stranger than fiction.

Cf. The Human Stain, by Philip Roth.
1.29.2008 6:41pm
Hoosier:
ejo--I don't mean to sound sanguine about the future of free expression at our universities. Just that 'unthinkable thoughts' are controlled more by academic culture than by anything like a Containment policy on the part of university officials. Those of us on the right learn early to keep our heads down. Those who enter grad school with more ambition than compass can easily find how to fit in.

And people like me encourage our brightest, like-minded undergrad students to go to law schol and not PhD programs. (Perhaps this is why law faculties will generally have a couple faculty on the right. Unlke English Departments.)
1.29.2008 7:07pm
Richard Fagin (mail):
Every night when I go to bed I thank God Almighty to have been born in 1956 and not 1986. I thank God that by the fortunate timing of my birth I was able to obtain a college eduaction in this country without having to submit to the moral equivalent of communist reeducation camps. And I thank God to have been born in a time when children were taught right from wrong, and taught yes, to be judgmental about what is right and wrong. Ms. Krauss can open her "lines of communication." Someday, may we finally recover from our moral blindness and open "a can of whoopass" on this nonsense before it kills all of us.
1.29.2008 8:10pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Every night when I go to bed I thank God Almighty to have been born in 1956 and not 1986."

Well, I was born in 1956 and none of this is surprising to me. At my little Southern college, some poor freshman from another part of the country used to dress in American Indian garb and all sorts of hell broke loose when the campus newspaper made fun of him. We also had a professor who was in the early stages of dementia and made all sorts of inappropriate remarks and wandered off topic in his classes. It took the onset of full-blown Alzheimer's to force the guy into retirement.

I remember all sorts of fusses and crises and uproars about all manner of things. I remember the sense of shock when they told me I could "design my own curriculum"!! Goodness! Well, I did just that--signing up for a triple major in subjects that interested me, skipping all the gut or boring courses and taking the 300 and 400 level stuff. I've always been glad, actually, that I had that option. The breadth of things I absorbed has served me *very* well since then. But it seemed like a pretty "progessive" thing to do back then.
1.29.2008 9:04pm
gs:
Krauss's letter to the faculty mentions the "investigatory process" twice, but she misspells the second word both times.

Taken by itself, Krauss's letter gives no sign that, as indicated by her letter to Hindley, she is the key decisionmaker--decision maker? decision-maker? ;-) -- in the case or that she accepts responsibility and accountability.
1.29.2008 9:28pm
wpeak (mail) (www):
Of course the Conservatives are confused by this simple statement from the Academy. I blame it on their proven fear of ambiguity.

Like for example this childlike need for full disclosure. Or the charming reticence to accept a more flexible lexicon. It's a living language after all. You can't expect words to have the same stagnant usage day after day, place after place, just because they are in some musty old book...unless they are offensive of course, then they always have the worst possible meaning.

In the end language and the investigation of its use is best left to those with more formal training. Persons of letters and all that.
1.29.2008 10:01pm
Hoosier:
gs--"Decision-maketrix." (Just don't tell her.)
1.29.2008 10:58pm
Dick Eagleson:
So the Kafka seminar is now a lab section, eh?
1.29.2008 11:50pm
roger rainey (mail):
The academia sinks into an Orwellian miasma from which it won't escape in our lifetimes, and the academics here squabble about hyphens. The infection is already spread far and wide.
1.30.2008 12:10am
meep (mail):
I think it is exactly the Monty Python situation. The prof's transgression was merely saying "wetback", no matter the context ("There! She did it again!"). Brandeis cannot state what he did that was so offensive, as they'd be offending, too, by their own logic (I guess they could waffle with "the w-word".)

Another possibility is that they're too proud to admit they made a mistake, or, as above, they want to hound this guy out. ("They" being Brandeis admin). If they were too explicit in what the offense was, they are afraid that the accusation will be too weak to seem reasonable. If they're not specific, people can fantasize over an epithet-spewing prof.
1.30.2008 5:05am
Arkady:
Perhaps we can update Mark Twain:

"First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made college administrations."
1.30.2008 7:52am
Hoosier:
roger rainey:

Shouldn't that be "far-and-wide"?
1.30.2008 9:54am
Stealthpundit (mail):
I'm intrigued by her use of the phrase "legally required investigation." As a probable violation of the Professor's first amendment rights what law or statute is requiring this? Is Brandeis a government entity that can truly enact their own "laws"? Or is this another example of a "three named provost" who thinks that a series of poorly conceived (and probably unconstitutional) "rules" are "law"?

I moved back to the US from Canada after my freshman year in college. Had a Hispanic roommate - all the guys on the floor called us the wetback and the iceback. We thought it was funny. Wonder if it is too late to sue for mental distress (class of '83).
1.30.2008 9:55am
JBL:
Am I missing something? Does this letter actually say anything? I read it twice and couldn't find any real content. Given the circumstances, that's kinda creepy.
1.30.2008 12:46pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
Stealthpundit_

I also noticed the "legally required investigation" language, but suspected a completely different cause. I took it as an attempt to evade responsibility - "Maybe we're acting foolishly, but our lawyers are making us do it." On the other hand, I counsel my clients to never blame malice for anything which can be explained by incompetence, and this would suggest your reading is correct. Any others have thoughts?
1.30.2008 3:58pm