NYT Editor to Accept Honorary Degree from Brandeis Despite Controversy

NYT editor won't comment on Brandeis because paper is covering story
Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson / AP

Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson / AP

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New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson is still scheduled to accept an honorary degree from Brandeis University next month, despite the firestorm over the school’s decision to rescind its honorary degree invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Abramson told the Washington Free Beacon she could not comment on the Hirsi Ali controversy because the Times is covering the story. She did not respond to questions about whether she still plans to accept the degree or whether this could also present a conflict with the paper’s Hirsi Ali coverage.

Abramson is still scheduled to receive the honor, according to the Brandeis website.

MIT biology professor Eric Lander and philanthropist Malcolm Sherman are also slated to receive honorary degrees at the university’s May 18 commencement ceremony. School reform advocate Geoffrey Canada will give the address.

Lander and Canada did not respond to request for comment, and Sherman could not immediately be reached.

Brandeis pulled its invitation to Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born woman’s rights activist and memoirist, after some students and outside groups objected to comments she made about Islam, calling them “hate speech.”

In a statement explaining its decision to withdraw the honorary degree invitation, Brandeis University called Hirsi Ali “a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights” but said it “cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

Hirsi Ali said in a 2007 Reason magazine interview the West must “defeat” Islam, through war if necessary, and that “there is no moderate Islam.”

Hirsi Ali, a Muslim-turned-atheist who escaped a forced marriage and obtained asylum in the Netherlands, is also a vocal champion for woman’s rights in Muslim societies.

After serving in the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006, Hirsi Ali moved to the United States and took a position at the American Enterprise Institute.

Since 2004, she has lived under a fatwa for a film she wrote called Submission, which objected to the treatment of women under Islamic law. An extremist Muslim assassinated the film’s producer, Theo van Gogh, in 2004.

Hirsi Ali has written the books InfidelNomad, and The Caged Virgin, which chronicle her experiences.

She responded to Brandeis University’s decision by saying the school and her critics “simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.”

“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode,” said Hirsi Ali in a statement. “More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles.”

A diverse range of voices from biologist Richard Dawkins to the Wall Street Journal editorial board have come out in support of Hirsi Ali. Prominent atheist leader David Silverman, a Brandeis alum, said he will withdraw his financial support for the university and alumni association membership in protest of the school’s decision.

Alana Goodman   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Alana Goodman is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Beacon, she was assistant online editor at Commentary. She has written for the Weekly Standard, the New York Post and the Washington Examiner. Goodman graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 2010, and lives in Washington, D.C. Her Twitter handle is @alanagoodman. Her email address is goodman@freebeacon.com.