Department of English

Statement on Free Speech and Police Presence at Brandeis, 11/20/23

Statement from the Department Chair

These are difficult days. Natural grief in reaction to tragedy can too easily give way to fear and rage that can make us forget our common humanity. We in the English department are committed to countering such fear and rage, and instead offering a vision of Brandeis as a place of safety and understanding for all.

Recent actions by the Brandeis administration have gone against the university’s true ethos, against its commitment to academic freedom, to diversity of opinion, and to toleration of political and religious differences. The administration has wrongly attempted to narrow discussion and debate about politics in Israel and Palestine. In particular we disavow in the strongest terms the Brandeis administration's resort to violence on Friday November 10. It must not occur again.

Our institution is damaged, and it will take effort on our part to put it to right. We recognize that our student community is balancing many different views about what safety means on campus right now, including feeling threatened by police presence. Other students fear outbreaks of antisemitism and Islamophobia, such as have occurred on many campuses in the last few weeks. The English Department remains committed to the values of freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and freedom of speech. And we know that many of us at Brandeis are now engaged in repairing our university and trying to rebuild the trust that was broken by the administration's actions and statements over the last several weeks.

We especially wish to reach out to anyone who may have personal, political, religious, or any other connections to the events in Palestine and Israel or who may have been affected by recent events on our campus. Our campus ought to be a safe and welcoming place for all; that safety may have been temporarily fractured, but we are committed to rebuilding our community and ensuring that the Brandeis tradition of peaceful protests continues. We hope each of you can find Brandeis a place where you can feel comfortable living and thriving. We urge you to seek out your mentors and advisors for reflection and support.

We affirm that our Department will continue to welcome everyone who embraces it, no matter who they are, no matter what they believe. The English Department has always been a tolerant place, a place of learning and thought and passion, a place that nurtures its students as scholars and teachers and helps them develop, a place where faculty and students seek meaning and healing and transformation through literature. Nothing about that has changed recently, and it is not going to. We will make every effort we can to help to bring Brandeis back to the community we want it to be.

John Burt
English Department Chair