The Brandeis University Debacle
“Truth Even Unto Its Innermost Parts” has been the inspirational motto of Brandeis University ever since its founding in 1948. A self-described non-sectarian secular Jewish university, it was named in honor of the great liberal jurist Louis D. Brandeis. The university has displayed the tortured convolutions of liberalism ever since.
Herbert Marcuse, the philosopher-guru of the New Left, taught there between 1958-65. Among the students who imbibed the ideas developed in his oxymoronic essay “Repressive Tolerance” were Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman. Marcuse, Davis recalled, “taught me that it was possible to be an academic, an activist, a scholar, and a revolutionary." The flamboyant Hoffman, a leader of the counterculture youth rebellion, also learned revolutionary theory from his mentor.
Several years after Marcuse’s departure, seventy African American students occupied Ford Hall for eleven days, renaming Brandeis the Malcolm X University. Then an attempt was made to set fire to the building that housed the political science and history departments, regarded by campus New Leftists as reactionary beyond the pale of legitimacy.
Brandeis remained true to its emerging credo of liberal intolerance -– increasingly toward Israel. In 1973 a chapter of Breira, the antecedent of J-Street, emerged to demand territorial concessions for a Palestinian state in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Among its student leaders was a young man named Thomas Friedman, who would subsequently develop his ideas as Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the New York Times. Two years ago the Brandeis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine launched its first Israel Apartheid Week.
Last February the university proudly announced the forthcoming award of an honorary degree to Ayann Hirsi Ali for her courageous campaign against female genital mutilation, honor killing, and the radical Islamists who embraced this horrific agenda. But after the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) protested, Brandeis president Frederick Lawrence rescinded the award, claiming “We cannot overlook certain of her past statements.” A respected scholar of freedom of speech had spoken.
That was only a warmup exercise for the most recent fiasco at Brandeis. In late December, following the unprovoked murder of two New York City police officers, Brandeis student Khadijah Lynch tweeted on Facebook: “I have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today.” Repeating herself the following day, she added: “I hate this racist fucking country.” Lynch had already made a dismal name for herself months earlier when she was quoted in the student newspaper (ironically named The Justice): “American police forces of today descend from a legacy of slave captives and overseers whose job was to protect the property (enslaved black bodies) of rich, slave owning capitalists.” To be sure, the slain police officers were Latin and Asian.
Lynch, of course, is entitled to freedom of speech. So, too, are her critics. Prominent among them was Daniel Mael, a courageous Brandeis senior and journalist for TruthRevolt.com, who had vigorously protested the president’s cave-in over the withdrawn degree offer to Hirsi Ali. He quoted Lynch’s words in an article he published later that day. Mael was pilloried by students who rallied to Lynch’s defense, one of whom preposterously claimed that his news site is largely followed by “white supremacist(s).”
No Brandeis faculty member or student leader publicly defended Mael. Instead, he was excoriated for violating Lynch’s “privacy,” although it was she who had chosen to go public with her Facebook rant. Lynch absurdly accused Mael of “slander” for publicizing her public posting. She further exercised her own free-speech rights during a radio interview when she read from her poem: “surely the wretched are those rich white rapists, yes, those capitalists, those Zionists, those colonists, the ones we celebrate for their hatred....”
As in the Hirsi Ali contretemps, Brandeis President Lawrence entered the fray belatedly and vapidly. Defending the “free expression rights of all students” (while prudently asserting that “the views of one student do not represent the views of this University”), he advocated “a climate of mutual respect and civility” -– which Lynch and her coterie of supporters had blatantly disregarded.
Jewish Press correspondent Lori Lowenthal Marcus aptly labeled the Brandeis row “a battle for the soul of an institution” (12/28). Political scientist Abraham H. Miller described Brandeis’s “latest moment of shame” (JNS.org, 12/29) as President Lawrence once again capitulated to campus leftists. Having taught the history of freedom of speech at Brandeis (1965-71), I fondly remember when students were encouraged to respect the words of Justice Brandeis: “Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of free speech to free men from bondage of irrational fears...” (Whitney v. California . But that was before political correctness replaced “Truth Even Unto Its Innermost Parts.”
Jerold S. Auerbach, author of eleven books, is Professor Emeritus of History at Wellesley College