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A Response to Brandeis Faculty from a Trustee

3:29 PM, May 21, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Martin Gross, a trustee on the Brandeis board, responds to the faculty outrage over Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

When I graduated from Brandeis in 1972, where I majored in Philosophy, I immediately knew that I owed Brandeis a great debt. And so, over the past two decades I have been, at times, an adjunct lecturer at the Brandeis International Business School, served on the Board of Trustees of IBS, and the Board of the University itself. With gratitude I have contributed significant sums to my alma mater, including a chair in financial markets and Institutions to IBS.

It was at Brandeis that I was introduced to the pre-Socratic philosophers and was fascinated with how they struggled to find ways to explain the world around them, and how their ideas influenced Plato, Aristotle and others who succeeded them. It was at Brandeis that I was introduced to the thought of Immanuel Kant, and the other giants of Western thought, as well as the thought of other cultures. It was at Brandeis that I came to understand that in intellectual dialogue all ideas are on the table, that everyone is entitled to his point of view and that public scrutiny of ideas is the best way to assess their worth. It was at Brandeis that I was taught how controversy served as an impetus to critical thinking, and that it is often the very people who are condemned for expressing ideas, like Spinoza and Galileo, who are later considered the great minds of Western thought. And it was this foundation that I relied upon when I next studied philosophy and politics at Oxford University and then law at the University of Chicago.

I must now confess to having serious concerns about the spirit of free inquiry at my alma mater when it rescinds an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman who champions women’s rights in the Muslim world. A woman honored in Denmark, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. A woman who received the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee and was voted Woman of the Year for 2006 by the European editors of Readers Digest magazine. And I thought it regrettable that upon learning that Hirsi Ali was offered an honorary degree 87 Brandeis faculty members were so “filled with shame” that they presented University President Frederick Lawrence with a letter urging him to “rescind immediately the invitation to Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali for an honorary doctorate” based on her “virulently anti-Muslim public statements.”

These faculty members said that “the selection of Ms. Hirsi Ali further suggests to the public that violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus.” And they also could not “accept Ms. Hirsi Ali’s triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples.”

Whole thing here.

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