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(photo credit: http://www.gs.columbia.edu)
"The illegitimacy of that sort of behavior is so conspicuous it will have no traction with American universities," predicted George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg, speaking of the University and College Union (UCU) academic boycott with The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
"It's an insult to everything we stand for," he told the Post, "everything we claim makes us special in our society. We talk about freedom, free speech, unfettered scholarship, and then the Brits [sic] behave in this way, inviting political intervention in their affairs from their own government and boycotts from universities who disagree with them. I can't imagine what they were thinking."
Trachtenberg, president of the university since 1988 who will be retiring this year, wrote a protest letter to the British ambassador to the US after hearing of the late-May passage of the UCU decision recommending a boycott.
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While "it's too soon to have a grand sense of what [American academics] think from coast to coast - we're talking about 4,000 colleges and universities - professors who give it any thought at all will see the outrageousness of this boycott," he said.
Last week, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger penned a public condemnation of the UCU initiative.
"If the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list," Bollinger wrote, "for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education."
Bollinger also warned that, "in seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas."
Bollinger said he was speaking "as a university professor and president," and called the notion of an academic boycott "utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment."
In the wake of Bollinger's condemnation, Zvi Galil, Tel Aviv University's new president and a former dean of Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences under Bollinger, wrote the Columbia president to thank him for "making your views publicly known."
Calling the British advocates of the boycott "mediocre scholars anyway," Galil told the Post he agreed with Trachtenberg that "the boycott has no chance in America. Boycotting people for political opinion is a complete rejection of academic freedom, a rejection of what universities are built upon."