Friday, August 10, 2007

The ASA Council Should Condemn Academic Blacklists and Boycotts - An open letter from Chad Goldberg

For some time there has been a sustained campaign in Britain to institute a blacklist (misleadingly described as a "boycott") of Israeli academics and their institutions. In 2005 and 2006 proponents actually succeeded in having blacklist resolutions passed by each of the two major British academic associations--the Association of University Teachers (AUT) in 2005 and the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) in 2006—though the first decision was reversed by a membership vote and the second lapsed when NATFHE merged with the AUT to form the Universities & College Union (UCU).

This year, once again, the UCU national conference in May 2007 endorsed a proposal for a blacklist of Israeli academics to be sent out to membership branches for further consideration during the coming year, with a final decision to be taken in May 2008.

This UCU blacklist proposal has already been strongly condemned by academic associations and universities on both sides of the Atlantic, along with a range of other groups and individuals (for some examples, see here & here & here.)

My friend Chad Goldberg has just sent an open letter to the Council of the American Sociological Association (ASA) asking that the ASA should also take a stand in defense of academic freedom. Here is the gist:
I am writing to ask the ASA Council to issue a statement that (1) urges the UCU’s membership to reject the specific boycott proposal that it is now before it and (2) condemns all attempts to boycott or blacklist individual scholars and/or educational institutions on the basis of their nationality, the policies of their governments over which they have no control, or their political views. In my view, the ASA Council should do so strictly on the grounds that such measures threaten the core principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, without delving into political debates for or against Israeli policies, Zionism, or other such issues.
He's right. In 2005, the ASA failed to condemn the AUT blacklist--unlike, for example, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), and the American Psychological Association (APA). This time, the ASA should redeem itself.

—Jeff Weintraub

=>  Update:  It did.  (For a slight qualification, see the letter with "Reaction to the ASA Council's Resolution on Israeli Boycott" on p. 13 of the November 2007 Footnotes.)

==============================================
Prof. Patricia Hill Collins (University of Maryland), ASA President-Elect
Prof. Arne Kalleberg (University of North Carolina), ASA President
Prof. Frances Fox Piven (City University of New York), ASA Past President
and other members of the ASA Council

August 9, 2007

Dear ASA Council members:

As you are no doubt aware, on May 30, 2007 delegates at the annual meeting of the United Kingdom’s University and College Union (UCU) passed a motion that requires the union to circulate and debate a call to “boycott” Israeli educational institutions. Discussions are to take place for a year, during which time the motion instructs union members to "consider the moral implications of conducting ties with Israeli academic institutions." Though this measure is misleadingly termed a boycott and is ostensibly aimed only at institutions, it is more accurately described as a blacklist, since its intended effect is to exclude Israeli academics from international academic and intellectual life. Delegates also passed a motion calling for the union’s congress to campaign for "a moratorium on research and cultural collaborations with Israel via EU and European Science Foundation funding until Israel abides by UN resolutions."

These UCU motions are the latest in a series of such moves by British academic associations. In 2005 the Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to boycott two Israeli universities and to blacklist their faculty. These measures, intended by their proponents as the first step toward a comprehensive blacklist of Israeli academics, were overturned by the AUT’s membership after a month of heated debates. They also received strong international condemnation from a number of important academic associations, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), and the American Political Science Association (APSA) here in the U.S. In 2006 the executive of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) also approved a motion to blacklist Israeli academics, but this decision became moot when NATFHE and AUT merged to form the UCU later that year.

I am writing to ask the ASA Council to issue a statement that (1) urges the UCU’s membership to reject the specific boycott proposal that it is now before it and (2) condemns all attempts to boycott or blacklist individual scholars and/or educational institutions on the basis of their nationality, the policies of their governments over which they have no control, or their political views. In my view, the ASA Council should do so strictly on the grounds that such measures threaten the core principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, without delving into political debates for or against Israeli policies, Zionism, or other such issues.

There are several reasons why the ASA should act – and act now – to discourage the proposed blacklist. The UCU’s decision to discuss the proposed blacklist over the course of a year gives the ASA an opportunity to intervene in and contribute fruitfully to this debate before any final action is taken. Such intervention is warranted by the fact that the blacklist proposal is not merely an internal UCU affair. The proposed blacklist would adversely affect individual ASA members who are affiliated with Israeli educational institutions, either on a temporary or permanent basis. (I count myself among such members.) In addition, it would establish a dangerous precedent of punishing academics for the policies of the governments under which they live. All ASA members have a strong professional interest in opposing such a precedent.

Finally, the proposed blacklist threatens the vital professional interest of all ASA members in academic freedom and open intellectual exchange. These are principles that the ASA has explicitly and repeatedly committed itself to defending, in its mission statement, constitution, and past statements approved by the ASA Council. In particular, see the Statement on Human Rights, issued August 17, 2005; the Statement on Academic Independence and Scientific Integrity, dated September 19, 2006; and the Statement on Academic Freedom and Cuba, issued February 4, 2007. These emphasize that "the free flow of scholars and scholarship across national borders is a fundamental tenet of academic freedom," oppose "barriers to scholarly inquiry and exchange," and underline the ASA's commitment to "the open movement of faculty and students between universities irrespective of nationality or political views." Article III of the ASA Constitution is also pertinent in this regard: "The objectives of the Association shall be to stimulate and improve research, instruction, and discussion, and to encourage cooperative relations among persons engaged in the scientific study of society." Surely, these objectives obligate the ASA to discourage academic blacklists like the one currently under consideration by the UCU.

It is perhaps worth adding that many educational institutions and professional organizations have already come out against the proposed UCU blacklist. Among the educational institutions that have declared themselves against the blacklist are Universities U.K., the Russell Group, the London School of Economics, Oxford University, and the Open University in the U.K.; the University of British Columbia, McGill University, and the Université de Montreal in Canada; and New York University, Columbia University, UC-Berkeley, and UC-Irvine in the U.S. More than 11,000 academics, including 32 Nobel laureates and 55 university presidents, have signed a public petition sponsored by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) opposing a blacklist of Israeli academics. And more than 300 presidents of American colleges and universities signed a statement, recently published in The New York Times, condemning the proposed UCU blacklist. Educational unions and professional associations that have rejected the blacklist include the National Union of Students, the British Academy, and the Royal Society in the U.K.; and the American Association of University Professors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and my own union, the American Federation of Teachers, in the U.S. In addition, U.S. labor leaders issued a joint statement in July 2007 denouncing calls by British trade unions for "divestment from and boycotts of Israel." The signers of the statement included the presidents of the AFL-CIO and more than two dozen major unions, including the steelworkers, autoworkers, teamsters, mineworkers and garment workers, as well as the heads of the two most important black labor organizations, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

It is high time for the ASA to follow these examples. Regardless of what individual ASA members may think about Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict, we can all agree that the fundamental principles of academic freedom and open intellectual exchange must be defended and upheld – for everyone, everywhere in the world. I therefore urge the ASA Council to issue a strong and unequivocal statement opposing all efforts to boycott or blacklist individual scholars and/or educational institutions on the basis of their nationality, the policies of their governments over which they have no control, or their political convictions.

Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Chad Alan Goldberg
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Visiting Professor (spring 2008), Hebrew University, Israel

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