Canadian university presidents urge UCU to reconsider boycott

Leading institutions - including McGill, British Columbia and York - rejected the UCU initiative.

canadian univeristies298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
canadian univeristies298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A growing number of Canadian universities are expressing their opposition to an academic boycott of Israel proposed by the UK's University and College Union. Several leading Canadian universities - including McGill, British Columbia and York - rejected the UCU initiative in mid-June. Last week, Carleton University joined the list. "Carleton University strongly believes in fostering a culture of discussion and dialogue among academics and scholars without barriers or exception," Carleton University President Samy Mahmoud said in a statement that called on "our fellow academics in Britain's University and College Union to reconsider the proposed boycott." Also last week, Trent University President Bonnie Patterson said in a statement: "At its most fundamental level, this boycott is a violation of the academy's core values and should be denounced... [A]ny attempt to constrain the ability of university scholars to engage freely in their research and scholarly activity is an attack on the fundamental value of academic freedom." University of Guelph President Alastair Summerlee recently said it was "unacceptable when any group of scholars seeks to suppress the opinions of another. Such action would be an attack on the very principles of universities and must be condemned... In a world that is increasingly expressing intolerance in so many ways, it is disgraceful that any institution or collection of institutions would wish to betray the nature of universities worldwide. The proposed action strikes at the core of our deliberate and precious democratic purpose." The recent additions of Carleton, Trent and Guelph brings the total to 23 Canadian universities. In the coming weeks there should be more, according to a Canadian Jewish advocacy group that works with Canadian universities. It is the danger to academic freedom, and not specifically to Israel, that is causing Canadian university heads to speak out, said Karen Burke, executive director of the University Outreach Committee in the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, the advocacy arm of the Jewish federation system in Canada. "Academic freedom is an issue that Canadian university presidents take very seriously," she told The Jerusalem Post. This is evident "just by virtue of the fact that 23 [presidents] have come out with separate [statements], rather than signing one." Since "a lot of presidents and faculty are on vacation over the summer, when they come back there may be some more statements as well," Burke added.