Following a week of heated debate over a student’s tweets expressing “no sympathy” for two NYPD officers murdered in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, Brandeis President Fred Lawrence issued a statement condemning a “lack of sympathy” for the murdered officers. In his statement Lawrence roundly condemned the anti-law enforcement statements of the student leader as well as the threatening messages sent to both students involved, but also defended the “free expression rights” of all students.
The controversy began when a Brandeis student representative posted anti-law enforcement tweets expressing “no sympathy” for the execution-style murder of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. When student activist and TruthRevolt contributor Daniel Mael’s report on those tweets went viral, pressure mounted from students and alumni for a response from the university. Many alumni and students took to online forums to express their “shame” and outrage for the university’s failure to discipline the student responsible for the tweets, while some students attempted to pressure the administration to discipline Mael for reporting on the tweets. Both students involved reported receiving threatening messages, raising the issue of student safety on campus.
Monday President Lawrence responded, roundly condemning the statements that began the controversy as well as any threats against students, but he was also careful to defend the rights of students to voice their opinions and freely report. Below is the complete text of his statement:
Let me begin with one key matter – safety of our students. We have no greater concern than the safety of our students at Brandeis. We have taken and will continue to take all efforts to safeguard our students.
The discussion of the past week continues a national conversation on race and law enforcement that is bound to be heated and controversial. We will defend the free expression rights of all students in this debate. Arguments, even heated arguments, are one thing; threats are another. Within our community, we must address each other in ways that do not threaten each other. Any student who feels unsafe should notify public safety immediately.
It is critically important that we be able to have discussions about complex and charged issues in a climate of mutual respect and civility. This is an ambition for the full society – it is a mission for our University. I am proud that most of the discussion on our campus over the past days has been characterized by the kind of respectful and reasoned discourse that is the essence of an institution of higher learning.
A group of Brandeis students has been urging that this discussion transition away from social media, where the lack of face-to-face interaction, the instant ability to post and the brevity of posts can enable destructive language, and transition instead into settings based on direct human connection and into more rational forms of expression. I support these students’ efforts to make this discourse shed less heat and more light. In the new year we plan a forum for respectful dialogue on these issues.
Let me now share my own views of the killings in New York a week ago last Saturday. I have deep sympathy and respect for the slain officers and for their families, colleagues and friends. Those who were present on our campus the day of the “lock down” following the Boston Marathon bombing in April, 2013 will remember the sense of security that our own campus public safety and city police officers provided. These are brave, dedicated public servants who, when necessary, willingly go into harm’s way to protect us. What New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton properly described as the assassination of the two officers was a horrific crime. I thus join those who have condemned any lack of sympathy with these officers and with those who mourn their murder.
It should go without saying that the views of one student do not represent the views of this University. I have consulted with the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and they are strongly supportive of my position and of this statement.
I write just after Hanukkah and Christmas, a time of year in which many faiths celebrate the search for light at a time of darkness. That is what we are committed to. I wish our entire Brandeis family and our country a healing and a fulfilling 2015 ahead.
With warm regards,