RECRIMINATIONS, ACCUSATIONS, AND RESIGNATIONS: After a week and a half of controversy, charges, and countercharges, the October 28, 2003, issue of The Justice finally came out today, October 31. Apropos that it would finally come out on Halloween, as it’s been awhile since Brandeis has seen such horrors.
[Once again, if you don’t care about any of this, click here to read about “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Halloween in Hoboken, and Manny Ramirez’s contract, among other subjects.]
The issue, perhaps the most controversial in the paper’s 54-year history, contains three news articles, two staff editorials, two resignation letters, and 23 letters to the editor- all in response to a single paragraph of a single column by a single writer. This week’s issue will go down as the eternal chronicle of what may be the biggest on-campus brouhaha at Brandeis University since the end of the Vietnam War.
One by one, here are my takes on each news and opinion article; I’ll blog about the letters sometime over the weekend:
-The front page features a nearly 3,500 word chronology of the events; the two authors (who are not members of the Editorial Board) almost certainly studied the New York Times’ similar Jayson Blair mea culpa, and do an admirable job telling the story in a lively and evenhanded way.
Interestingly, the article refers to “a long history of racist comments in [Passner’s] columns,” specifically mentioning a column from September in which the writer used several Holocaust references in order to belittle baseball commissioner Bud Selig. The question must then be raised (again, a la Jayson Blair): why were all the warning signs ignored, and why was Passner allowed to continue writing for the Justice, much less hand in his columns minutes before the paper went to press?
-The front-page BBSO letter – subject of Monday night’s dusk-to-dawn dispute- calls for “reconciliation,” while also containing a threat to “turn this university upside down” if they don’t get what they want. What does that mean? While every single Justice editorial unequivocally condemned the Passner comments, is the BBSO prepared to apologize for threats of physical violence against Stephen Heyman (and other editors) had he not resigned?
There’s no question that just as last spring’s Iraq protestors acted out of a long-held desire to re-enact Brandeis’ anti-Vietnam demonstrations, the BBSO members are positioning themselves as the heirs to the “Malcolm X University” students who took over Ford Hall for several days in 1969; indeed, the student center that housed both the Thursday forum and the Justice’s office are in the building that was built on the former site of Ford Hall.
I believe that both last year’s antiwar protestors and this year’s BBSO were largely encouraged and pushed in that direction by a certain element of activist faculty members who practice political correctness as a fundamentalist religion, and for years have intruded in campus politics accordingly. For these people, it is now and forever 1969; they’re merely using the scandal to advance an agenda that’s been in place since before Daniel Passner was born.
-The next front-page story deals with the near-riot that occurred last Monday, after Justice/BBSO negotiations had broken down over the paper’s refusal to accede to all of the demands, and the BBSO thus sought- with the 100% backing of the university administration- to do nothing less than infringe on the paper’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press. Most chilling quote:

“[Dean] Jean Eddy coerced us into not printing. She said that it’s the best for the Brandeis community,” Associate Editor Igor Pedan ’05 said. “She wanted to appease BBSO so that Brandeis’ image in supporting diversity doesn’t falter. She said that they were the injured party so we should succumb to them.”

Yet the administrators sent out their PR man to lie to the Boston Globe. How admirable.
-The editors contribute two editorials (included as one in the web version)- one, an apology, and the other, a defense against the horrible accusations to which they’ve been subjected. Both are reasonably well-argued, but I have to question the placement, on the website at least, of the defense above the apology. What, did the webmaster resign too?
-On the editorial page are two letters of resignation, by erstwhile EIC Stephen Heyman and by Yana Litovsky, the Features Editor who served as a powerful, free-thinking voice for her entire time on the paper, and was especially outspoken at the time of the “Men’s Room” incident.
Heyman’s letter is 100% defense and 0% apology, but that’s understandable, considering that, as someone who had a promising career as editor-in-chief cut off at the knees just weeks into his tenure for next to no fault of his own, and had to deal with threats of violence to boot, he probably got hosed worse in this thing than anyone else.
Litovsky also goes the next-to-no-remorse route, and her piece is a gem. The money graf:

We, however, have not been treated as journalists, but rather as muses for social justice. In addition to our anger at ourselves and at the issue at hand – not a journalistic error, but racism – we have absorbed and internalized the anger of our peers, and we have been forced to concede to demands far beyond our call of duty. Insofar as the demands have contorted our journalistic standards and duties, we have let the student body step on our necks to reach new heights of social action…Sacrificing the editor-in-chief is a punitive measure, devoid of reason and potency. By sabotaging the Justice as a vital dissemination of student opinion, it is a gratuitous, ineffective and detrimental gesture.

To turn the Passner affair into a microcosm of American race relations is nothing short of absurd, for the simple reason that the appearance of Passner’s column in the paper was a mistake. Racism is more than a mistake- it is a sickness, a virus, and it is evil. A bunch of college students trying to put together a newspaper are not sick, are not evil, and are certainly not the heirs to Jim Crow.
-The 23 letters to the editor the Justice received (I predicted 25) in regards to the Passner matter have been posted online as a PDF; I’ve only skimmed them thus far, but I saw one great point made that I’ll address right now, from a letter by student Paul Kandel:

Had the article said, “the only thing Joseph Lieberman has a Ph.D in starts with a K and rhymes with ‘hike,'” I would have been furious. I may have been mad enough to make generalized comments about the responsible parties, even if I knew nothing about them. I may have even been angry enough to walk out of a forum designed to heal and show that I would not listen.
But I would’ve been wrong.

Exactly. I couldn’t have said that better myself.
-The Justice’s first major mistake in the post-Passner era? A truly dreadful feature headline: “Bulimia Festers in the Student Body”
Passner’s blog is no longer online; I guess taking it off is the closest thing he’s given to a comment since this all started.
-And finally, if there’s one overarching theme that I’ve seen in the letters, blog entries, and elsewhere, it was a sense of horror and gloom that came from 10 days of a campus virtually at war, when it appeared possible that Brandeis might devolve at any moment into full-fledged racial violence. So what did Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz tell the Daily News Tribune on Thursday, when asked about the situation? He was “pleased” at how the “community” has responded!

The discussions in the past few days that have occurred across campus have heightened awareness of the many issues involved and moved our community to a better understanding of the divisiveness and pain the expressions in The Justice caused.

So after doing his part to fan the flames by sending out a campus-wide e-mail the day after the column appeared which falsely implied that the Justice editors had fully endorsed Passner’s sentiments (without first interviewing them), Jehuda now thinks the whole affair, which brought the campus to the brink of a riot, was in the end a good thing! To think I once had respect for Reinharz- what a spineless, duplicitous bastard.
-Thanks again to everyone who’s been reading my thoughts on this all week, I appreciate the nice comments. And I’ll be back up at my alma mater for a visit next month, for the first time in way too long.

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