Office of the President

Presidential Task Force on Free Expression

Nov. 22, 2016

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

Today, more than ever, those of us who care about fostering robust debate and discussion need to create an environment in which these activities can flourish. In the U.S., we view free expression and academic freedom as fundamental principles. But there is wide debate — among scholars, citizens, university officials, the courts, and the media — about how we define these principles. What do they really mean to us?

The time seems right for members of the Brandeis community to come together to reflect on and re-examine our University’s policies and practices related to academic freedom and free expression.

To undertake this re-examination, I am convening a 16-person Presidential Task Force on Free Expression, the members of which (see the list, below) represent all segments of the Brandeis community. I have asked Professor George Hall to chair the group.

This task force will:

  • Through open meetings, interviews with individuals from multiple constituencies, information from other universities, and discussion and debate within the committee, assess the condition of free expression, peaceful dissent, and mutual respect at Brandeis.
  • Draft a set of principles that guides free and robust debate and deliberation among all members of the University community, including those within the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis International Business School, the Rabb School of Continuing Studies, the Rose Art Museum, and all centers and institutes.
  • Draft recommendations for measures the task force determines are necessary to ensure that all members of the University community understand these principles.
  • A draft version of the task force’s report will be reviewed by the Faculty Senate, the University Advisory Council, the faculty as a whole, the undergraduate Student Union, and the Graduate Student Association. I have asked the task force to submit the final version of its report to me in spring 2017.

This is certain to be a vigorous, animated, and challenging conversation. But I am convinced it is a critical one for Brandeis. Our reverence for the precepts of social justice and critical thinking demands that we unify around a set of principles that clarify our exercise of First Amendment freedoms on campus as well as our understanding of the responsibilities that come with them.


Members of the Presidential Task Force on Free Expression

Charlotte Aaron, Undergraduate Student Representative

Jamele Adams, Dean of Students

Stephen Alkins, Graduate Student Representative

Mark Brimhall-Vargas, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Susan Dibble, Louis, Frances, and Jeffrey Sachar Professor of Creative Arts

Sylvia Fishman, Joseph and Esther Foster Professor in Judaic Studies

Jeff Flier, P’00, P’11, Member, Board of Trustees

George Hall, Fred C. Hecht Professor of Economics

John Plotz, Professor of English

Tom Pochapsky, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Raj Sampath, Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Justice, Rights, and Social Change

Cynthia Shapira, Member, Board of Trustees

Matthew Sheehy, Interim University Librarian

Sheryl Sousa ’90, Senior Associate Vice President for Student Affairs

Curtis Tearte ’73, Member, Board of Trustees

Javier Urcid, Jane’s Chair Professor of Latin American Studies

Aida Wong, Nathan Cummings and Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Chair in Fine Arts and Associate Professor of Fine Arts

Steve Locke, Legal Advisor