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Lack of transparency surrounds ‘Buyer Beware’ decision

By The Brandeis Hoot

Section: Editorials

November 10, 2017

The Hoot is raising issue with how the Brandeis administration and theater department faculty handled the “Buyer Beware” situation and about Brandeis’ stance on important issues and academic policies.

In The Hoot’s coverage of “Buyer Beware,” by Michael Weller ’65, and its developing situation, the faculty of the theater department failed to be transparent and distorted the truth.

In response to questions from The Hoot and others, the Brandeis theater department released a statement which said, “following open and productive conversations with Michael [Weller], we have mutually decided that his new work would best be premiered off campus by a professional company.” This statement, at a minimum, was a skewed version of the truth. Reporting by WBUR and later by The Hoot revealed there had been minimal communication between the playwright and faculty leading to the playwright’s decision to retract his work. However, the university has yet to acknowledge these attempts by the theater department to conceal the truth from its students.

The theater department has declined to offer their side of the story, outside of short statements, and has remained silent, with only their student representatives offering information.

Information the administration released by email on Nov. 2 supported the decisions of the theater department despite the department’s lack of clarity and straightforwardness. By casting the theater department faculty as “our community’s educational and pedagogical experts,” without pointing out their failure to adequately inform the student body of the situation, the Brandeis administration has asked the student body to accept the department’s decisions and decision-making processes without criticism.

The administration, through this email, weighed in on “Buyer Beware,” but they revealed little about the timeline of events or their opinions on the situation. The administration is not absolved of responsibility to be involved and open about the decision-making process just because faculty made those decisions.

Information that the administration has released, whether in interviews or email statements, has been vague and not rooted in a firm viewpoint.

Senior vice president of communications and external relations Ira Jackson notes in a Nov. 2 email, “Deciding how to engage with this material was a decision made by Brandeis faculty…This was not, and should not have been, the administration’s call.”

In the Nov. 6 press release posted on BrandeisNOW, “University’s statement related to the Creative Arts Award and ‘Buyer Beware,’” the university notes that, “The administration does not and should not interfere in these pedagogical matters.” Instead, they deflect the decision to Weller, saying that, “as an artist, Mr. Weller has the right to determine how and where he would like his work presented.” While Jackson’s Nov. 2 statement went out as a campus-wide email, the Nov. 6 statement—the first to provide any concrete details about these events—appeared on the university’s website without any announcement.

Neither the administration nor the faculty made the final call on canceling “Buyer Beware.” Weller, the playwright, made the decision to have the play performed off-campus.

Despite numerous weeks of reporting on “Buyer Beware,” questions still remain unanswered. If this was truly a pedagogical issue, then why did faculty show early support for the play? Where does Brandeis stand on important issues of speech and academic freedom? When decisions are made following student dissent, other students should be allowed to inquire. At a university with the motto “Truth even unto its innermost parts,” faculty and administrators should not make it so hard for students to learn the truth.

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