Scholars urge University of Chicago to stop disruptions of Israel course

The boycott campaign began last year when the school's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter urged students not to enroll in “SH*TTY ZIONIST CLASSES.”

University of Chicago (photo credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
University of Chicago
(photo credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Over 120 members of academia at US universities and colleges on Monday called on the University of Chicago to condemn and prevent disruptions of a counterterrorism course taught by Israeli professor Meir Elran.

Protesters are demonstrating outside the classroom, making it difficult for students to enter and disrupting the course, according to the Chicago Maroon.

The boycott campaign began last year when the school's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter urged students in an Instagram post not to enroll in “SH*TTY ZIONIST CLASSES.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by @sjpuchicago

“When protests disrupt teaching and learning they should be treated as violations of campus policy and antithetical to the core academic principle of open intellectual exchange.”

Signatories

“Simply put, these protests are meant to intimidate. Respectful debate and even criticism of a course and its content are welcome, but protests that are designed to demean an instructor and intimidate students are not acceptable,” wrote the signatories, including members of the Academic Engagement Network’s Women Faculty, Junior Faculty, Jewish and Israel Studies Faculty and Faculty in the Midwest committees.

“University leaders should uphold the right of students to protest and to express a wide range of viewpoints. But when protests disrupt teaching and learning they should be treated as violations of campus policy and antithetical to the core academic principle of open intellectual exchange. Students have a right to study in a safe learning environment. We are committed to maintaining a respectful and welcoming campus for all, and we trust that the University of Chicago administration is as well.”

View of University of Chicago building from the Harper Quadrangle (credit: NICOMACHIAN/CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)View of University of Chicago building from the Harper Quadrangle (credit: NICOMACHIAN/CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

‘Environment of prejudice’

“Virulent in-person disruptive protests may understandably dissuade students from signing up for certain courses for fear that they will be harassed, shamed, and ostracized,” the signatories added. “Such an environment of prejudice hinders the ability of students to take advantage of the full range of the University of Chicago’s academic offerings and, in this case, deprives them of the opportunity to learn about the history, politics, society, and culture of another country, all of which is critical knowledge to have in our increasingly globalized world.”

The signatories also urged the university to condemn the campaign to boycott Israeli professors and courses, arguing that tolerating the campaign undermines the university's commitment to academic freedom.

“For these reasons, we call on the University of Chicago administration to reaffirm the institution’s commitment to academic freedom and robust intellectual debate on contentious issues by publicly condemning the ongoing campaign to boycott Israeli visiting professors and Israel-themed courses and to do everything possible to prevent the physical disruption of these classes,” the scholars said. “We believe that it is only through such forceful and unequivocal responses that campuses can remain vibrant spaces for learning, dialogue, and growth.”