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Professor Allegedly Makes Racist Remarks in Class at Brandeis University

The professor allegedly used the term “wetbacks” in class, a derogatory expression used to describe immigrants who have crossed the Mexican border illegally. Brandeis University moved swiftly and decisively to correct the situation by placing a monitor in his class, but a faculty committee says the university threatened the professor’s academic freedom to remedy a situation that it hadn’t fully investigated.

The Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities at Brandeis University has issued a scathing report that criticizes a top administrator, claiming that her investigation into racist remarks allegedly made by Dr. Donald Hindley, a professor of political science, lacked thoroughness and impartiality.

Hindley, who teaches courses in Latin American Studies, was forced last month to undergo anti-discrimination training and submit to having his courses monitored by a university administrator after several students charged that he had repeatedly made racist comments in his classes against Mexicans and other minorities. He was later charged with violating the university’s non-discrimination and harassment policy and received a harsh rebuke from Provost Marty Krauss.

“I, as provost, am extremely concerned for the welfare of the university’s students … the university will not tolerate inappropriate, racial and discriminatory conduct by members of its faculty,” Krauss wrote in a letter to Hindley last month. “I sincerely hope that you will recognize the seriousness of this matter and take affirmative steps to correct your conduct. Failure to do so may result in further disciplinary action up to, and, including termination,” the letter concluded.

But in its report released last week, the independent faculty committee — made up of five professors who teach in different departments from Hindley — charge that Krauss did not launch a thorough investigation into the alleged racist comments and urge that any punitive measures against Hindley be revoked immediately.

“We find that … [Krauss’] decision failed to take proper account of the multiple and fatal procedural flaws in the implementation of university harassment policies, a failure that itself violates Professor Hindley’s right under the faculty handbook to fair and equitable treatment under those policies,” said the report. “The discipline imposed on the basis of those policies was excessive, and should also have been suspended during the period of our review, and her actions to date pose a threat to Professor Hindley’s academic freedom and to that of other faculty and students, a matter on which we retain an active interest.”

Krauss did not return several phone calls, and Hindley did not respond to repeated e-mail and phone requests seeking comment. The students who made the complaints have not publicly commented on the allegedly racist comments and could not be reached for comment.

The faculty report charges that the decision to place Hindley’s class under strict supervision and force him to attend anti-discrimination training was based simply on allegations against Hindley that were made by several students in his class to a human resources investigator at the college. The committee found that there were no efforts made at resolving the complaint informally prior to Krauss’ decision, which they argue is a violation of university policy.

The committee also criticized the human resources investigator for failing to speak to Hindley numerous times to give him a chance to rebut specific charges before handing over their findings to the provost.

“We believe that this specific procedural failure, in itself, makes the investigator’s report fatally deficient as a basis for any disciplinary decision. We found it especially disturbing that Professor Hindley was the last person interviewed in this month-long investigation, and that the investigator’s report was submitted to the academic administration one day after she had spoken with him.”

The committee later concluded that given the importance of academic freedom in the university setting, “it is difficult for us to imagine a case where it would be appropriate to place speech monitors in a classroom,” they wrote. “Speech monitors should virtually never be used in harassment cases, and certainly not as the first attempted remedy, nor as a means of chilling the instructor pending further measures.”

The committee also criticized Krauss for threatening Hindley with termination and not informing the committee first.

“We are deeply troubled by the impact of this case on Professor Hindley’s academic freedom — and by extension, its impact on other faculty and also on students, all of whom deserve to have the opportunity to speak freely in classes without fear of having their comments monitored.”

Hindley defended his discussion of the “wetbacks” term, according to students in his class, saying he had used it to describe racism of a certain historical period. Several students have expressed support for the embattled professor who has taught at Brandeis for 46 years.

“His intent was not racist, and I don’t feel that he is a racist,” said Ephraim Z. Rinsky, a current student in Hindley’s Latin American Politics course.

In an interview with Diverse, Rinsky said that the presence of the outside monitor in Hindley’s class has been disruptive. “It definitely changes the dynamic of the class,” said Rinsky, a junior majoring in economics.

It’s unclear whether university officials will dismiss the complaint against Hindley in light of the faculty report.

“We strongly support the University’s commitment to address discrimination in all its forms. But we emphasize that, for all future complaints, including the one still standing against Professor Hindley, it is in everyone’s interest that investigations should follow the written procedures with great care,” the report concluded. “Any dean or provost reviewing that investigation has a responsibility to ask probing questions about the underlying process.”

–Jamal Watson

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