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Univ. addresses freedom of speech, ethical integrity in self-study

Principles of free speech were formulated by the university after concerns arose about issues of free expression, a self-study published in September 2018 found. The study also looked into the integrity of all students, staff and faculty and the documents that highlight the rights and responsibilities for each group.

In the self-study, the university examined areas of educational effectiveness as part of the university’s accreditation process through the New England Commissions of Higher Education (NECHE.) The ninth standard of nine NECHE standards focuses on integrity, transparency and public disclosure. This article is the first part of The Brandeis Hoot’s coverage on the ninth standard, or integrity.

Standard Nine: Integrity, Transparency and Public Disclosure

Rights and Responsibilities 

Students, faculty and staff members on campus all follow different documents that outline the rights and responsibilities. “The ethical integrity of a university is sustained by a strong institutional ethos and by clearly defined policies and procedures,” writes the self-study.

The Faculty Handbook is for all faculty members on campus and outlines responsibilities shared by all faculty in their professional tasks but also their ethical obligations toward students and colleagues.

There is a separate dispute resolution process, including issues of salary grievance, which is initiated by the provost of the specific school, according to the Faculty Handbook. A review and recommendation is produced by the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities (CFRR) and a decision is ultimately made by the president of the school, subject to approval by the Board of Trustees. 

The Business Conduct Policy is for all employees of the university, which means both faculty and staff. This policy “sets forth fundamental expectations and standards of conduct, which are supported through comprehensive policies and procedures,” writes the self-study. 

Rights and Responsibilities is the document that governs the student body. These standards of behavior cover all aspects of student life and detail the processes for handling allegations of misconduct. 

There is also a research misconduct policy that is applied to all research activities conducted under the university, if the project is funded or not. The policy is to ensure no “research fraud, unethical treatment of human subjects and animal research or other misconduct in science and research,” according to the policy.

For any potential cases of misconduct, an Inquiry Committee is convened to look into the issue and decides a verdict.

All students, staff and faculty are given academic freedom on campus, meaning the “full freedom of scholarly and intellectual inquiry and expression,” according to the self-study. The university recognizes this freedom as “fundamental to the educational and scholarly purposes of a university.”

The Faculty Handbook states that the university will protect the “full freedom of scholarly and intellectual inquiry and expression of all faculty in the fulfillment of their University responsibilities.” It adds that when a member of the faculty speaks in public and not as part of the university, they are free from any institutional restraints. 

The university is also working toward strengthening prevention of sexual misconduct and better addressing the aftermath of incidents, according to the self-study. Brandeis has since expanded resources available on campus for survivors, including counselling, as well as a clarification of mandated reporting responsibilities and a newly-revised process for adjudication of allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Freedom of Expression 

President Ron Liebowitz formed the Task Force on Free Expression in November 2016 to address student concerns about the current principles of free speech at the university, per a letter titled “Presidential Task Force on Free Expression.” Liebowitz tasked the task force to address three issues.  

The 16-person task force worked to address the current condition of free expression at Brandeis, to formulate a set of principles to guide free, robust debate on campus and finally, “to develop recommendations for ensuring widespread understanding of these principles within the University community,” reads the study.

After meeting for a few months, the task force completed a report that detailed the five principles that would guide debate on campus. The principles are as follows:

  1. Maximizing free speech in a diverse community

This principle gives all members of the Brandeis community the ability to “put forth ideas for consideration, engagement, and criticism by others, as such exchanges are core to the mission of our institutions of higher learning,” Liebowitz wrote in a letter to the Brandeis community about the outcomes of the task force. “We explicitly connect free speech concerns with our desire for a diverse, inclusive community.” 

  1. Developing skills to engage in difficult conversations

The university will be working toward being a space where members of the Brandeis community are able to freely communicate and engage in difficult conversations and expose students to these types of environments, Liebowitz wrote in his letter. 

  1. Sharing responsibility for fostering an inclusive, mutually respectful campus culture

This principle is working toward an inclusive campus that promotes “the expression of a diverse set of intellectual, political, cultural, and social outlooks,” wrote Liebowitz in the letter. “The university must find a way to engage the whole community about each person’s responsibility to foster a just and inclusive campus culture so that all can participate fully in the intellectual and social life of the university.”

  1. Rejecting physical violence and interference with speech

No physical violence or prevention of speech is acceptable. Peaceful protest is a way to engage in a discussion. “Once violence is normalized as an ingredient of free expression, it sets the pattern, ending rather than supporting free expression,” Liebowitz wrote. 

  1. Distinguishing between invited speakers and University honorees

This principle speaks to how Brandeis is a place that campus organizations can invite outside speakers, but this does not mean that the university endorses the speaker. There are cases where it is an endorsement, like when granting honorary degrees, but these will be explicitly said by the university. Any protests that may happen on campus opposing a decision made by the university is not considered an attack on free speech.

This is the seventh part of a series looking at the self-study.

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