The key to preventing academic boycotts successes in the future
By EDWARD S. BECK
To be reactive may well be to be too late; being vigilant and proactive is the only way to ward off these attacks on academic freedom.
The good news is that approximately 60 colleges and universities from around the
country have had their administrations committee to not participating in
academic boycotts as a reaction to the recent academic boycott resolutions of
the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies
Association and the Asian American Studies Association. The bad news is that
there are well over 3,500 colleges and universities in the United States alone
that have not spoken out on this issue.
Moreover, there are hundreds of
academic and professional affinity groups where faculty are independently
active, and via which they make reputations for themselves through publications
in journals and association leadership. These associations are the currency of
the realm for academics, where peer review and politics reign
These association set standards for curricula, program
accreditation and publications which are accepted by colleges and universities
as standards for their program offerings.
One of the leading
organizations, the Modern Language Association, which has 30,000 members from
hundreds of colleges and universities, has been in existence since 1883 and
professes to study language, is perhaps one of the most influential of these
academic associations in the humanities and social sciences. It shall be meeting
beginning January 9 in Chicago.
At these meetings there will be programs
dedicated to the teaching of English, Foreign Languages, Literature – and at the
Delegate Council there will be a resolution on boycotting Israeli Academics and
Institutions, the wording of which has not been publicly released. No one is
taking any bets on whether this resolution will pass or not, but do not be
surprised if it does.
Why might it pass? Because academics opposing
academic boycotts have not been alarmed enough by the very successful persistent
and predictable strategy of the pro-boycott movement: infiltrate academic
societies and strategically introduce such resolutions while marshaling support
from the governance body, and getting on the agenda when it may be too late to
thwart the effort.
I speak as an insider who has fought the academic
boycott movement since 2003 and who knows full well the tactics of this
contingent. By the time it reaches the various governing councils of these
organizations, it is too late in many cases to reverse the momentum.
is quickly becoming too late for anti-academic boycott faculty to be successful
with reactive measures to these boycotts. Frequently votes are taken at times
when attendance is low or meetings are breaking and people are hustling to leave
and catch planes. Frequently these votes are passed by a small minority of the
general membership because faculty members simply aren’t paying attention or
think others will take care of their concerns, thinking it can’t happen here.
Well, it has happened, and academia has had a wake-up call.
So what is
the antidote? Unfortunately this problem will not be solved with position
statements by organizations or donations from large donors or even condemnations
from the press.
The only antidote to these attacks on academic freedom
will come from faculty themselves when they decide, in the words of the great
humorist W.C. Fields, “to grab the bull by the tail and face the situation.”
What does that mean? It means that every academic who opposes academic boycotts
for any reason, whether it be purely academic terms or political or other
reasons, must work within his or her own institution, discipline and
professional society to develop the codified organizational and institutional
policies that state in language that is clear and bold that the group will not
entertain any proposals for academic boycotts based on national origin or
institutional affiliation because such resolutions are discriminatory, may
violate legal and tax statutes and are based on the notion of collective
punishment, and such, are disruptive to the flow of academic discourse and
research and anathema to the basic concept of academic freedom.
policy also has to state sanctions for individual members engaging in such
behavior, as this would be a violation of institutional or organization policy
and regarded as academically unethical.
These statements must be
codified, so that when the organized committees come to recruit vulnerable
departments, faculty members and disciplines, the policy can be pointed to as a
principle of the organization or institution.
challenging news is that this is hard work and only a few of us have rolled up
our sleeves to do it discipline by discipline, campus by campus. These codes
will supersede institutional statements by administrators who come and go. These
codes will uphold time-honored commitments to academic freedom and freedom from
discriminatory practices that have been hardfought battles won, and which have
made academics stronger as a result.
Only academics in their societies,
faculty senates and academic governance groups can make this happen. Those of us
who are institutionally- based faculty cannot abandon this responsibility or
they will learn, as many of my friends and colleagues have learned from the ASA
experience and may well learn from the MLA experience, that their disciplines
were considered vulnerable and conquerable by the academic boycott
It is time for faculty to take their heads out of the sand and
realize that to be silent is to be an accomplice.
To be reactive may well
be to be too late; being vigilant and proactive is the only way to ward off
these attacks on academic freedom.
The author is Steering Committee
Coordinator at the International GrassRoots Faculty Committee on Academic
Freedom and Integrity, and co-founder and president emeritus of Scholars for
Peace in the Middle East.