Brandeis University, Daniel Mael, and Freedom of Speech

As the Washington Free Beacon reports, and as others have reported here and here, Brandeis University issued a “No Contact Order” (NCO) to student journalist and outspoken Israel-supporter Daniel Mael last week, which would have restricted his movements on campus.  This order, which was immediately revoked this past Friday following an intense media outcry, comes…

The Brandeis Center Holds Second Annual National Law Student Leadership Conference

The Brandeis Center hosted its second National Law Student Leadership Conference in Washington, DC on December 29-30.  This event took place as part of the Center’s recent law student and public outreach initiatives.  Many of the students in attendance were members of their universities’ chapters of the Brandeis Center.  Our law student chapter program fills an important gap in American legal education, offering educational programming that connects students’ legal education to pressing Jewish civil rights issues.  The conference’s primary focus was on engaging the students in dialogue with each other about the issues facing them as aspiring lawyers and proponents of civil rights through a series of lectures, panels, and roundtable discussions with several prominent figures in academia, government and professional law.  In attendance were the LDB chapters of University of Pennsylvania, CUNY, UVA, University of St. Thomas, UCLA, and ten others.  Several other students are in the process of forming their own chapters and others plan to do so in the coming weeks.  The conference’s events covered a variety of legal and political issues related to the Brandeis Center’s core mission, such as the power of student leadership, federal protection of the civil rights of Jewish students, and fighting anti-Semitism.

The conference began with addresses from the Brandeis Center’s own Aviva Vogelstein and Kenneth L. Marcus at the District Architecture Center.  Vogelstein welcomed the students and guests to the forum. Marcus began his speech by asserting the importance of combating anti-Semitism through legal action and then by recounting the history of the Brandeis Center’s student chapter program, whose level of success has exceeded all expectations praising the member-students’ demonstrated ability to accomplish goals with unparalleled enthusiasm. Law students, according to Marcus, have the responsibility to focus on more than just succeeding in school – they need a broader sense of what it can truly mean to be a lawyer.  However, Marcus warned, taking stands on important issues will inevitably foster adversity, which is why crusading for civil rights is a task that merits the utmost respect.  He expressed gratitude to the students for their efforts to strengthen the LDB’s fight against injustice.  Marcus ended his speech by discussing the importance of a fair educational system. “To understand what’s happening locally,” he remarked, “you have to have an understanding of what’s happening globally.” And with that, he introduced the keynote speaker, Hon. Ira Forman, the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Forman gave an engaging, off-the-record speech about his experiences fighting against anti-Semitism abroad during his time with the State Department.  Forman, former Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, gave a highly informative speech that drew upon his extensive experience dealing with discrimination in order to put some of the conference’s central topics in a larger historical context.  The students were thrilled to get the opportunity to hear from a high-ranking governmental official on an issue of such importance to them.

Federalism for the Holy Land?

The NYT is ending 2014 with an editorial—“The Embattled Dream for Palestine” (December 19)—rehearsing the nightmarish political impasse and putting all the blame, as per usual, on Israel. This time the fall guys are Israeli “one state” rightwingers who want to extinguish the dream of Palestinian peoplehood. No mention that Palestinian “one staters” like Hamas…

UC’s Moment of Truth

181798582The University of California—once home of the legendary Free Speech Movement—has an academic freedom problem.

Earlier this year, we witnessed Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor of UC-Berkeley, co-opt the anniversary of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement to emphasize the limits that “civility” might, in his view, properly impose on freedom of speech.

Now comes a new threat to intellectual freedom, as students across the UC system face a potential onslaught of classroom indoctrination.

In December, the UAW 2865, the University System’s union for graduate instructors, voted to support the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Nearly two-thirds of the union’s members voted in support of divestment, and over half pledged to personally abide by an academic boycott of Israeli educational institutions.

A union vote alone does not constitute a breach of academic freedom. And UC’s graduate students unquestionably have the right to express whatever political opinions they choose outside the classroom. Nevertheless, the UAW 2865’s vote is profoundly worrisome.

First and foremost, academic boycotts are anathema to academic freedom. In order to perform its mission in society—the educating of young minds—the university must maintain a neutral posture on hot-button political questions. As the seminal Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action states:

To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. … The neutrality of the university … arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.