92 universities reject academic boycott of Israel

Four academic institutes have now cut ties with American Studies Association for their decision to join boycott.

Israel boycott 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel boycott 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – More than 90 American universities have so far released statements rejecting the American Studies Association decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions, and several have cut ties with the organization in protest.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed appreciation to university presidents and chancellors who “stood up against this discriminatory and unjustified measure and rejected the ASA boycott of Israel.”
“This is now a clarion call to reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and assure that American campuses are not subverted for extremist political ends,” said Conference of Presidents chairman Robert G. Sugarman and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.
The 5,000-member ASA announced last month that it had endorsed and would participate in a boycott of Israeli universities and academic institutions. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NA ISA ) decided to join the boycott as well shortly thereafter.
The Association for Asian American Studies was the first to join the boycott in April 2013.
However, many other major academic organizations have condemned the boycott or otherwise expressed their disapproval.
Molly Corbett, president of the American Council on Education – an umbrella group that covers 1,800 institutions and claims to be the “most visible and influential higher education association” in the US – issued a statement on Sunday that “such actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom….
We hope the leadership of these organizations [who support the boycott] soon reconsiders their actions and trust that other scholarly organizations will see the troubling implications of such boycotts and avoid [a] similar vote.”
The Association of American Universities (AAU ) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP ) similarly expressed their opposition to the boycott.
“Academic freedom... is a principle that should not be abridged by political considerations.
American colleges and universities, as well as like institutions elsewhere, must stand as the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom,” wrote AAU chairman William C. Powers – who is also president of the University of Texas at Austin – in a statement co-signed by the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University.
AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum and first vice president Henry Reichman stated that their organization “neither supports nor opposes Israeli government or Palestinian policies, although many of our members certainly have strong beliefs on one side or the other. However, the AAUP does stand in opposition to academic boycotts on principle.”
They referenced a 2005 statement their organization had issued in response to the British Association of University Teachers’ boycott of Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities.
“Boycotts are not in themselves matters of principle but tactical weapons in political struggles,” the AAUP said. “Academic boycotts strike directly at the free exchange of ideas.”
Among the more noteworthy universities that rejected the boycott were Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, New York University, Yale and Dartmouth College.
“To be sure, it is entirely appropriate for our campuses to provide a forum for discussion and debate about the policies of any government, including our own,” wrote Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “But the ASA ’s vote runs counter to this essential academic and political freedom and, taken to its logical conclusion, would necessarily result in boycotts of fellow scholars and peer institutions from many nations around the world.”
In 2007, a letter that Bollinger wrote opposing academic boycotts of Israel received signatures from 400 other college and university presidents.
Princeton president Christopher L. Eisgruber dubbed the boycott “misguided,” adding that singling Israel out was “indefensible.”
But while Eisgruber noted that his “personal support for scholarly engagement with Israel is enthusiastic and unequivocal,” he said he did not intend to denounce the ASA or cut Princeton’s institutional ties with the organization.
“My hope is that the ASA ’s more thoughtful and reasonable members will eventually bring the organization to its senses – here, too, engagement may be better than a boycott,” he wrote.
NYU President John Sexton called the boycott “at heart a disavowal of the free exchange of ideas and the free association of scholars that undergird academic freedom; as such, it is antithetical to the values and tenets of institutions of advanced learning.”
Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Penn State Harrisburg withdrew their membership in the ASA in protest of the boycott decision.
In addition, several academic institutes denied being institutional members of the ASA , including Brown University, Carnegie-Mellon University, Hamilton College, Northwestern University, Temple University, Trinity College, Tufts University, University of Alabama, University of Mississippi, University of Southern California and Willamette University.Yaara Shalom contributed to this report.