Letter to Brandeis University President

Apr 10, 2014 |  Jay Bergman

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Letter to Brandeis University President

Apr 10, 2014 | 

Jay Bergman

Editor's note: NAS board member Professor Jay Bergman sent the following letter to the president of Brandeis University on April 9, 2014.

Frederick Lawrence
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Dear President Lawrence:

The decision of Brandeis University not to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after first announcing that it would do so, is disgraceful.

The cowardice it reflects contrasts sharply with the courage Ms. Ali has shown in condemning aspects of Islam that she rightly considers cruel, bigoted, and misogynistic, and for which she has suffered grievously.

It is yet another example of how arrogant, closed-minded faculty, and students who believe they can prohibit anything on campus that makes them uncomfortable, can intimidate administrators such as yourself to the point where one of the principles essential to higher education—a tolerance of opinions with which one disagrees—is dispensed with in the name of preserving "a welcoming environment."  But the very essence of education is being challenged intellectually, and if students cannot endure the discomfort that that often induces, they have no business attending a college or university.

You say that you are withdrawing the award because Ms. Hirsi's views violate what you call "the core values" of the university.  But Brandeis saw nothing wrong in awarding an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, who has called the creation of the state of Israel a mistake and falsely accused it of ethnic cleansing; and to Desmond Tutu, an anti-semitic bigot who has compared Israel to Nazi Germany.  From this one could reasonably conclude—since Tutu's anti-semitism did not cause Brandeis to refrain from awarding him a degree—that anti-semitism is either one of the core values of your university or is not inconsistent with these values.

It is clear that at Brandeis University Israel can be smeared and those who do so are rewarded, but someone who properly criticizes Islam is unfairly attacked and dishonored.

In short, you have made the sorry record the university has compiled in awarding honorary degrees even worse.

And what makes your shameful capitulation especially regrettable to me is that I am an alumnus of Brandeis University, class of 1970.  Your university is my university.  And right now I am ashamed to call it my alma mater.


Jay Bergman
Professor of History
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain CT 06050

P.S. For your edification I include the excellent article by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, an alumna of Brandeis, in today's Jewish Press, and an article by Toby Young in today's Telegraph, published in England and subtitled, appropriately: " Cowardly Brandeis University Capitulates to Islamist Pressure."

Image: "Ayaan Hirsi Ali" by Gage Skidmore // CC BY-SA

Charles Dickinson

| April 17, 2014 - 2:07 PM

“It is not permitted to criticize Islam”?  In the name of God I criticize my own religion to make it better and truer to the God whom I worship. Can you say the same?  By the same token I criticize other religions, especially when their adherents, by their very acts, blaspheme the same God whom they claim to worship.