OBTAINED: Letter From Brandeis President on Ayaan Hirsi Ali

"What I can tell you is that, since I arrived at Brandeis, support for and affinity with Israel has never been stronger. No university in this country has been more staunchly pro-Israel than Brandeis."

TruthRevolt has obtained an email from Brandeis University president Fredrick Lawrence on his decision to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree from human right's activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This is the first time that Lawrence's remarks have been public since his decision:

I made the decision to withdraw the honorary degree invitation previously extended to Ayaan Hirsi Ali with great consideration after I was made aware of extremely troubling statements she has made in the past that I believe are contrary to the core values of Brandeis, among them religious tolerance.

Ms. Hirsi Ali has had a distinguished career on issues of human rights-- advocating against violence toward women, forced marriages, honor killings, and female genital mutilation. As you may know, I am a staunch advocate for free speech and if this had simply been an invitation to speak on campus this would have been a clear decision.  However, an honorary degree is fundamentally different in that it unreservedly endorses an individual. 

Based on her past statements that unambiguously condemn Islam as a religion, I made the decision to withdraw the invitation to receive an honorary degree. Saying that "we are at war with Islam", e.g., after declining the opportunity from an interviewer to qualify that to mean "extremists" with a "No. Islam. Period" steps over the line from criticism to de-legitimization. Had these statements been directed at other faiths, such as Judaism or Christianity, there would be no question that – despite notable and laudable accomplishments – it would be inappropriate to extend the endorsement of an honorary degree to that individual.   I also want to clarify that – contrary to some media reports – Ms. Hirsi Ali was not scheduled to be the Brandeis commencement speaker. 

I deeply regret that we did not appropriately research and scrutinize the full extent of her past statements prior to extending the invitation, and once aware, I moved quickly to correct this mistake.  I acknowledge and apologize for the hurt that has been caused to members throughout the Brandeis community, as well as to Ms. Hirsi Ali, because of this mistake.  I have also sent a personal letter of apology to Ms. Hirsi Ali and have issued a sincere, personal invitation to Ms. Hirsi Ali to join us at Brandeis in the future to speak to and engage with our students, and we hope she will consider doing so.

While there were many voices outside the Brandeis community on both sides of this issue, my focus was on listening to the voices of students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and other members of the Brandeis community.  Outside groups played no role in the ultimate decision.

I am aware that there have been speakers at Brandeis Commencements in the past who have been critical of Israel, and that some believe we are applying a double standard.  What I can tell you is that, since I arrived at Brandeis, support for and affinity with Israel has never been stronger.  No university in this country has been more staunchly pro-Israel than Brandeis.  In response to what was clearly hate speech at Al Quds University, I suspended our relationship.  Brandeis was one of the first institutions in the nation to resign our membership in the American Studies Association after its recent infamous vote in favor of a boycott of Israel.  We have more Israeli students than ever and I have endorsed the creation of events, such as BVIEW (Brandeis views of Israel in an Evolving World) that are becoming a model for advocacy at other Universities, including Harvard. We have increased undergraduate scholarships for Israeli students, established research grants for faculty doing work with academic partners in Israel and fellowships for Israeli neuroscientists to do their post-doctoral work at Brandeis.

Again, thank you for reaching out to me.


Fred Lawrence