Willamette University joins an increasing number of universities rejecting the anti-Israel academic boycott, but in a twist, denies having any knowledge as to why ASA lists it as an Institutional Member.

The ASA considers Institutional Memberships to be important indicators of university support which is why it highlights the list:

Institutional members help to insure the continuity, development, and enhanced usefulness of a dynamic, professional, scholarly organization dedicated to broadening and intensifying the study of American life and civilization. They help to promote interdisciplinary activity and programs, working toward the lowering of rigid barriers of approach and technique, and the cooperation of scholars in various disciplines in a vital, international field of study. Institutional members also help to stimulate intellectual and professional activity among their own faculty.

We depend on institutional dues to carry on many of our current activities and to develop new programs and services.

Willamette University is listed as one of the Insitutional Members of ASA in the ASA Quartely and Annual Meeting materials.

Stephen Thorsett, President of Willamette University, communicating with a Legal Insurrection reader, rejected the boycott and indicated that Willamette was unaware of its Institutional Membership.  Here is the exchange, in part (emphasis added):

Before diving into the substance of your concerns, let me first report that I don’t think we are an “institutional member” of this organization in any real sense. I have asked our financial folks, who say that we last reimbursed a faculty member for an individual membership in 2005. (We’ve only checked credit card reimbursements back to 2011.) We do have a faculty member serving on the board of an encyclopedia project at JHU Press that is sponsored by ASA, but so far I’ve turned up no other relationships. Your email was surprising to me, since as an institution we don’t, as a general practice, join external scholarly disciplinary associations, except in certain partnership situations (e.g., groups like the Organization for Tropical Studies, with its support of collaborative research in remote locations, come to mind). Most likely our library subscribes to their journal(s); perhaps that is the source of the confusion? ….

We are glad to have had strong collaborations with academics in Israel in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. Despite your concerns about American academics “policing” compliance with a boycott, I have never received any request from any faculty member here (or at my previous institutions) asking me to support a boycott of Israel, nor would I be receptive to such a request.

I then communciated with President Thorsett, pointing out that he appeared to be incorrect as to an Institutional Membership being needed to obtain the Quarterly, and he responded that they still could find no indication of Institutional Membership in ASA, in part:

As I have already explained to others:

(1) In response to an external query, I asked our accounting office yesterday whether we had sent any funds to the ASA, and they reviewed credit card records back to 2011 and invoices going back further, finding no such payments since January 2005, when we covered an individual faculty membership for a grand total of $135.

(2) On further investigation today, we discovered that we are making an annual payment to JHU Press for an ASA journal subscription, which is presumably the source of confusion. In our accountant’s words: “The check is payable to Johns Hopkins University Press so I wasn’t recognizing it as a membership fee.”

That is everything I currently know about this university’s “support” for the ASA, an organization about which I had never heard before this letter writing campaign began to inflate their visibility and give them a much more effective platform to publicize their positions and activities.

Neither I nor this institution have either voice or vote in the activities of the ASA, either directly or through an institutionally-designated proxy.

My email this morning to the Executive Director of the ASA regarding Willamette’s status and whether it would be removed in response to President Thorsett’s statement was not returned.

I am hearing similar issues of other institutions on the list not being aware of their supposed Institutional Memberships, but am awaiting more information before reporting on it.

Update: I received an email from Patrick Reynolds, Dean of the Faculty of Hamilton College:

While I have been told that Hamilton College appears on a recent list of institutional members of the ASA, we have no record of current membership with the ASA; our conclusion is that the list is outdated, and Hamilton College is not a member of the ASA.

I have not yet heard back as to Hamilton’s position on the boycott.

Update No. 2:  Northwestern, which has condemned the academic boycott, just emailed me that it is not an Institutional Member of ASA despite being on the ASA list:

Dear Mr. Jacobson,

Northwestern University is not an institutional member.


Bob Rowley

Storer H. Rowley
Director of Media Relations
Department of University Relations