The President of Trinity College in Connecticut is one of over 50 University Presidents who have issued a very strong statement rejecting the academic boycott of Israel.

The Trinity statement consisted of a letter to the President of the American Studies Association, and reads (emphasis added):

To The Immediate Attention of the President of the American Studies Association:

Our Dean of the Faculty, Thomas Mitzel, and I wish to go on record renouncing the boycott of Israel on the part of the ASA.

Trinity once years back was an institutional member (we were then advertizing for an open position), and apparently some members of our faculty are individual members. Were we still an institutional member, we would not be any longer after the misguided and unprincipled announcement of the boycott of the only democracy in the Middle East. The Dean and I oppose academic boycotts in general because they can so easily encroach upon academic freedom.

In this strange case, why the ASA would propose an academic boycott of Israel and not, for example, of Syria, the Sudan, North Korea, China, Iran, Iraq, or Russia escapes rational thought. Trinity has participated in the Rescue Scholar program since its inception; we have welcomed scholars from some of the most repressive countries on the planet, and it is inconceivable to us that we would ever be welcoming a Rescue Scholar fleeing Israel for political reasons.

As President of the ASA, you have tarnished a once distinguished association.

James F. Jones, Jr.
President and Trinity College Professor
in the Humanities

Supporters of the boycott are trying to rally faculty, a tactic we can expect to see at other institutions.

But that rally cry appears to have failed miserably as the highy-pejorative “Open Letter” was signed by less than 10% of the approximately 250 faculty members. Only one of the signatories was outside the Social Sciences and Humanities.

The letter, published at the Jadaliyya website, reads in part (emphasis in original):

January 2014

Dear President Jones and Dean Mitzel,

We received your letter by accident. It was sent to one of us after it was sent off to the American Studies Association (ASA). No announcement was made to the faculty prior to the letter going out, and so no discussion was permitted. The letter–which is below–condemns the ASA for its resolution on Israel. It is also found on the website of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as part of a campaign by that body to undermine the ASA.

Many of us who are signing this letter are members of the ASA, proudly so, and several of us voted on behalf of that resolution that you chose to condemn in your letter. We believe that your letter is wrong-headed for several reasons. Some of these are detailed below:

(1) Your letter is singularly uninformed ….
(2) Your letter is intellectually lazy ….
(3) Your letter ignores the denial of academic freedom to Palestinians….

Your silence on this deep attack on the rights of Palestinians to an education indicates that the principle that motivates your letter is not academic freedom. If it were, you would certainly have expressed your concern about the violation of the academic freedom of an entire population since at least 1967. What principle you are upholding is up to you to establish. An indication might come from your failed attempt to suborn the American Studies faculty at Trinity to break their institutional linkage to the ASA; having failed with the faculty, you ignored them and claimed to speak as if there is not a rich seam of disagreement on our campus on this issue.

Your letter does not surprise us. In 2007, without a discussion in the faculty, President Jones signed on to an American Jewish Committee advertisement in the New York Times with the inflammatory tag line, “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” [my note – doc here] We suspect it says a great deal about the state of US academia and its democratic traditions that presidents can speak for a college or university without the minimal courtesy of consultation of the faculty, staff, students and alumni. The signing of the 2007 letter to the Times, this letter–these are political acts by a college administration that are disguised as acts of high principle.

That you have written this letter shows that the resolution of the ASA has had some effect–it has forced a conversation about the denial of the rights to full education of our Palestinian colleagues, about the impunity granted to Israeli institutions by the complicity in the US as well as the active financial, military and diplomatic support by the US government for the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians. That your letter does not seriously engage any of the issues–even academic freedom still less the actual occupation–is a sign of the lack of seriousness on your part. We look forward to a more robust discussion. As it is, you did not speak in our name–also members of the Trinity College community–when you wrote this ill-advised letter to the ASA President.

Sincerely,

1. Andrea Dyrness, Associate Professor of Educational Studies.

2. Anne Lambright, Associate Professor of Language and Culture Studies.

3. Dario Euraque, Professor of History and International Studies.

4. Davarian L. Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies.

5. David Cruz-Uribe, Professor of Mathematics.

6. Drew Hyland, Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy.

7. Garth A. Myers, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Urban International Studies.

8. Gary Reger, Hobart Professor of Classical Languages.

9. Janet Bauer, Associate Professor of International Studies.

10. Jeffrey Bayliss, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of History.

11. Johnny E. Williams, Associate Professor of Sociology.

12. Luis Figueroa, Associate Professor of History.

13. Maurice Wade, Professor of Philosophy.

14. Paul Lauter, Allan K. & Gwendolyn Miles Smith Professor of Literature and past president of the American Studies Association (1998).

15. Raymond William Baker, College Professor of International Politics and Chair, Middle East Studies Program.

16. Robert J. Corber, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in American Institutions and Values.

17. Seth Sanders, Associate Professor of Religious Studies.

18. Stephen M. Valocchi, Professor of Sociology.

19. Thomas Harrington, Associate Professor of Language and Culture Studies.

20. Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian Studies and Professor of International Studies.

21. Zayde Antrim, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of History and International Studies and Director, International Studies Program.

There are short and long term issues about anti-Israeli agitation among faculty on some campuses. The organizational takeover of groups like the ASA is a symptom, not the problem.

In the short term, the academic nuclear bombs set off by the ASA and two smaller groups, with the backing of the national and internatioal boycott movements, needs to be contained. More are on the way, as the international boycott movement has weaponized a small but influential part of American academia.

In the long term, balance needs to be restored to the Social Science and Humanities faculties, not just or even primarily on Israel. That will be a much tougher struggle, as entrenched academics will fight for their turf and the ability ensure the incoming generation of faculty toe their line.