Brandeis Rescinds Hirsi Ali Honorary Degree
Brandeis’ president announced today that he’d rescinded the University’s offer of an honorary degree to Ayan Hirsi Ali. Here is the statement:
Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year’s commencement. She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.
Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community’s focus to be squarely on our students. In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.
A little background is in order. I was made aware of the award originally by a faculty member and wrote the post about the story. It took a few days, but finally campus activists began to organize and in the past few days the Brandeis Justice had an editorial rejecting Hirsi Ali’s degree, the Muslim student group wrote an op-ed and there was a roundly negative news article. Students began a petition campaign and faculty weighed in against it. CAIR put the award on its national bulletin circulated to its members and the media.
In the end, Lawrence bowed to the inevitable and withdrew the degree. Not to have done so would’ve risked a huge scandal which would’ve gone national. While I don’t believe that personally Lawrence has any problems with Hirsi Ali’s Islamophobia, nor would the trustees who are the ultimate “deciders,” he had to recognize the rest of the world doesn’t see things quite the same way.
But one portion of the statement is truly pathetic. How can a university president, former law school dean, and noted legal scholar not understand the principle of due diligence? It would take 15 seconds worth of Google search to dig up the interview from Reason Magazine which I found. The truth is that either a pro-Israel trustee or his chief of staff, David Bunis, who’s a director of the David Project, suggested her to Lawrence. The latter knows which side his bread is buttered on and he went along. After all, you’ve got to go along to get along in academia, just like politics. Or to paraphrase Forest Gump, pro-Israel is as pro-Israel does.
Note all, that Lawrence invited Hirsi Ali back to campus. Undoubtedly, they’ll pick the most distinguished academic lecture series on campus and invite her to keynote it. The trustees will throw a big party and fete her. Fred Lawrence will even introduce her just as he did Alan Dershowitz, when he spoke on campus. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Max Blumenthal got the same treatment! The president will talk about Hirsi Ali as a beacon of courage and hope and bulwark against Islamist extremism. He’ll endorse just about her entire world view. If this incident is mentioned, it will be but a brief footnote.
In other words, this is a victory. And I’m proud of whatever small role I and you, my readers played in it. But the battle is by no means over. Islamophobia continues to rear its ugly head at Brandeis and elsewhere. Even if students and faculty disapprove, they don’t call the shots. It’s the trustees who do and they are the emodiments of the Israel Lobby. As I wrote earlier, Lawrence made sure to atttend Aipac’s national conference and the annual Friends of the IDF fundraising gala. He doesn’t do that because it advances Brandeis’ liberal arts reputation. He does it because his trustees want him to.
UPDATE: Ayan Hirsi Ali released a stinging rebuke to Brandeis for withdrawing her honorary degree. It looks like there will be no future speeches on campus for her as I’d suggested above. At least not as long as she’s this mad. In her reply, she falsely notes that the rescinding of her honor is a free speech issue. It’s not. She was offered an honor by the University which it has withdrawn. The offer of a degree is volitional, not something to which she’s automatically entitled as a citizen. She’s free to speak wherever she wishes or is invited. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alan Dershowitz is making such arrangements for her somewhere near campus as I write this.
If Fred Lawrence had been smart, he would’ve offered her such an opportunity on campus in the same conversation in which he withdrew the degree offer. But it appears he didn’t and this is the result. While I have no sympathy either for Hirsi Ali’s views or her stance on this matter, it’s Fred Lawrence and his staff who are most at fault for getting themselves into this thicket in the first place.
21 thoughts on “Brandeis Rescinds Hirsi Ali Honorary Degree – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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A new generation graduates every calendar year, youth represents idealism and possess great hope of fulfillment. This also extends to authoritarian and paternalistic ideas with groups perpetuating lies on their behalve. Indeed, this work is never done.
I found no link of tne present Board of Trustees to the David Project. Jonathan S. Jacobson is a trustee for the Gilman School and the Birthright Israel Foundation. Faculty member Ms Grace E. Zimmerman is co-chair of the board of trustees of the David Project.
Faulty link: Ms Grace E. Zimmerman.
Perhaps you mixed up Seth A. Klarman and Harvard Board of Dean’s Advisors?
@ Oui: Fred Lawrence’s chief of staff, David Bunis, is on the David Project board. There may be other Brandeis trustees involved with the David Project. But this guy isn’t on the Brandeis board. He’s Brandeis staff.
Indeed, David Bunis worked closely with Fred Lawrence before as attorney and ADL member …
Dwyer & Collora attorneys David Bunis, Tracy Fitzpatrick and Fred Lawrence obtained a judgment for $7.2 million in favor of their client Dean Foods Company of Dallas, Texas.
○ David A. Bunis ’83 Senior Vice President, Chief of Staff and Chief Legal Officer at Brandeis
○ Bunis serves as president of Temple Emanuel’s board of directors, a Conservative, fully egalitarian congregation affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts.
David Bunis and Fred Lawrence [pdf] both served on the board of directors of the Anti-Defamation League. I wonder what their position was on the internal ADL conflict, Andrew Tarsy’s resignation, and the stand on the Armenian genocide.
○ ADL National Commissioner Joseph Berman, genocide-denying judge to be defeated
It’s very strange that the term “phobia” is used in this story. Particularly by the university president and the media. Most definitions of phobia indicate an un explained, or irrational fear of something. In this case, it does not appear that she has a “fear”; and her obvious dislike of Islam is clearly rooted in her personal experience with the religion. I find it odd that none of her detractors are challenging the story of her experience, nor are they challenging her stated facts that Islam endorses arranged marriages, female genital mutilation, and denial of education to most females.
There appears to be a rush to defend a religion at the expense of the person, without any consideration for the rationale of the position held. I wonder what the reaction would be if her objection was to Christianity.
Her “story” has been challenged many times. From the false name she used in her original asylum application to the claim that her family had arranged a forced marriage for her. Read Laila Lalami’s Nation article to which I linked.
Well, it is no big deal. She will receive her ‘degree’, like Kennan Makiya, in Israel. She is a racist and a war criminal like her husband.
What race is Islam? And would you have a problem if a tyrant like Mugabe got an honorary degree?
@Rocky Lore: YAWN! You know there was a time when they sent the Hasbara A Team to this blog. They’re not even trying anymore.
RS: Good for the students and good for you in publicizing the original story and now the correction.
Would that more college presidents would correct their anti-BDS (presumably money-grubbing motivated) position statements. Columbia University president Bollinger has at least spoken out against the earliest version of a proposed NY law aimed at punishing the ASA BDS action.
More info about Fred Lawrence …
○ Brandeis prof blasts school’s deference to Israel and AIPAC (and donors Steinhardt, Schusterman, Crown)
○ At Brandeis, ditching sides for new Israel vision – 2012
bVIEW (Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World), its organizers describe it as “a student-led initiative that aims to revolutionize and depolarize conversations about Israel on college campuses.”
○ Brandeis: Fred Lawrence Curriculum Vitae [pdf]
○ Inauguration President Fred Lawrence – March 31, 2011 [pdf]
Mondowess is crediting you, Richard, with breaking this story resulting in Brandeis backing down.
Yes, the same Alex Kane who called me a racist deigned to offer credit for the Hirsi Ali story!
When I read the news in my Dutch newspaper I knew it was because of your post!
@ Elisabeth: Thanks!
Astonishing mention in Mondoweiss article:
“Hirsi-Ali is also an outspoken supporter of Israel, and spoke at the Israeli government-affiliated President’s Conference in Jerusalem in 2012 and 2013. She told the Sheldon Adelson-owned paper Israel Hayom that a two-state solution has not happened because Arab leaders believe it would betray the Qu’ran.”
Ms Ali has no knowledge of the Holocaust, German atrocities in Europe during WWII and has no credibility whatsover on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and peace talks. Unless her paymaster whispered in her ear …
See my earlier posts with links to two contradictory articles by Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld about Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Michael Schermer: “Why I Am An Atheist.”
From Facebook about Ayaan Hirsi Ali : My letter to the President of Brandeis University for his shameful treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
@ Oui: Shermer is a columinst at Scientific American, which means he ignores all scientific principles of evidence, research and reason in pursuit of bigotry. I’m guessing that he hates all religions, since he’s an atheist. But hates Islam most of all. Once he’s reached that conclusion and can dismiss her religious hatred, he can focus on what he considers the laudable aspects of Hirsi Ali’s world view.
The unflinching criticisms of Hirsi Ali in the “Degree recipient triggers outcry” article brightened my day – thanks for linking to it.