To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Here is an article about Professor Donald Hindley of Brandeis, who is being punished for something he said in the classroom: Shhh! Free speech crackdown on campus.

Brandeis University, named after Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis (a famous champion of free speech), just insisted on sensitivity training and threatened to fire a professor after one student - maybe two or three - complained about the professor’s speech. In a Latin American politics class, professor Donald Hindley, 74, who’s taught at Brandeis for nearly 50 years, used a word he’s used many times - “wetback” - to explain the nastiness aimed at Mexican immigrants who entered the United States over the Rio Grande.

The student(s) complained. Anonymously.

The administration launched an investigation into his “discriminatory” remarks, never telling Hindley what those remarks were. In one statement provost Mary Kraus praised the “courage” of the anonymous student(s) “to speak up against discrimination.” She also said three students suffered “significant emotional trauma” as a result of hearing the remarks.

FIRE took up his case, which may be why he wasn't terminated outright.

But here's a bit more about what he actually said:

At least one complaint appears to have stemmed from Hindley's reference to the term "wetbacks," a derogatory expression used to describe illegal immigrants who have crossed the Mexican border. Hindley defended his discussion of the term, saying he had used it to describe racism of a certain historical period."Throughout American history, he said, 'When Mexicans come north as illegal immigrants, we call them wetbacks.'"

Prof penalized for alleged racist remarks

Now, I don't think any reasonable person would think that HE was calling illegal immigrants "wetbacks" in that sentence. But may I point out two things: In his scolding disapproval of American racism he did say "we", which means he is taking on corporate guilt in the use of that term; and he played into the victimization politics that is the source of complaints like the one made against him. So perhaps it's not surprising that those complaints were made.

I remember that when I was a little girl I heard the word "wetback" and I asked my dad about it. He responded that it's a rude term used about Mexicans, assuming that they came into the country illegally by swimming the Rio Grande. I learned (a) who the word is used to refer to, (b) the etymology of it, and (c) not to use it. Had Prof. Hindley responded to questions about the term in this straightforward and objective manner, I doubt anybody would have batted an eyelash.

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