Last Wednesday, I gave a lecture on the law of assault and battery. As an example of simple battery, I used my old middle school friend Darrin’s violent reaction to being called an “English fag” by our classmate, James. Fortunately, no one was silly enough to believe that my simple battery example was meant to endorse the widespread use of the term “fag” – in fact, I prefer the term “queer” and only use it when talking about John Edwards. (Sorry, Ann, I couldn’t resist).
I also consider it fortunate that I don’t teach at Brandeis University. If I did, I might already have had someone placed in my classroom to monitor my use of the term “fag.” If you think I’m joking, consider the case of political science professor Donald Hindley.
Professor Hindley did a good thing the other day in his Latin American Politics course. He criticized the use of the term “wetbacks” as an inappropriate racial slur against Mexican immigrants. Of course, in the process, he actually uttered the term “wetback.” As a result, some students were offended – actually, in my view, they claimed to be offended in order to get attention.
And the “offended” students certainly did get attention.
As a result of the students’ feigned offense at the criticism of the term “wetbacks,” Professor Hindley has now been found guilty of “harassment” by administrators at Brandeis University. It is certainly funny that a university named after a Supreme Court Justice (and staunch supporter of free expression) should be guilty of such heavy-handed tactics, which are certain to chill the free expression of ideas.
But, make no mistake about it; what has happened to Professor Hindley is not funny in a “ha-ha” sense. It is funny in a “strange” sense. Although he has never been given a written explanation of the charges against him, he has been found guilty of “harassment” and has had a “monitor” placed in his class to make sure he does not “offend” again. All this is punishment for a professor who has been teaching for five decades and has never before had a student complaint.
Fortunately, the ACLU – like the blind squirrel that occasionally finds a nut – has taken a break from causes like suppressing individual prayer in order to weigh in on this truly important case. And they have proffered a correct, though incomplete, analysis of the Hindley case.