Humanities and Social Sciences imploding as anti-Israel academic boycotters tear their own programs apart.
This could be a series. In fact, with this post, maybe it is a series.
We have covered many times the faculty members who demand the boycott of Israeli academic institutions (BDS) — which necessarily involves boycotting the individuals who work at those institutions — and then complain when the boycotters become the boycotted.
Controversial professor Steven Salaita had his contingent offer of employment to join the American Indian Studies Department at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rejected by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees after Salaita went on a multi-month Twitter rant. Salaita, a leader of the anti-Israel academic boycott, claims academic freedom for himself as he seeks to deny it to others. (Salaita’s federal lawsuit is going through motion and discovery practice now.)
As a result of the Salaita non-hiring, an academic boycott of UI-UC was organized, to the cheering of pro-Salaita pro-BDS UI-UC professors in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
But something funny happened on the way the the boycott — it turned out that the only people hurt by the boycott of UI-UC were the pro-Salaita folks in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
As we reported in Academic boycotter doesn’t like being boycotted, UI-UC professor and anti-Israel academic boycott supporter Susan Koshy, an associate professor of English, Asian-American studies, and South Asian and Middle Eastern studies at UI-UC, complained:
For someone like me, who is inside the university and supports Salaita, the boycott [of UI-UC] represents an experiential impasse. I find myself in the impossible position of being the target of a boycott as a member of an institution whose actions I and many others here have challenged. Unlike faculty members outside Urbana-Champaign whose safe target is another university, our target is our own. The frequently repeated joke here—How do we boycott ourselves?—captures this problem. How do you oppose your own institution yet protect valuable parts of it at the same time?
Being inside a boycott has forced me to think hard about the nature of this political weapon, not because I oppose its use but because I have come to see the difficulty of using it with the care it requires. A boycott whose target is a university—particularly one where the faculty has challenged the decision that led to the boycott—carries serious responsibilities for its supporters.
It seems that the situation is even worse at UI-UC than suspected for the pro-boycott cheering section.
Two pro-BDS Anthropology professors Martin Manalansan and Ellen Moodie complain bitterly about their current situation, “Waiting” in the Neoliberal University: The Salaita Case and the Wages of an Academic Boycott (emphasis added):
It is important to note that the boycott has not harmed the vigorous exchanges in the STEM departments and colleges. Instead, the boycott has hit hard on vulnerable humanities and humanistic social sciences, especially those in the interdisciplines such as gender, women’s and ethnic studies. Now the former university system president Bob Easter has forecast new austerity measures, telling us: “Some programs will not survive.”
The UIUC boycott has become unwittingly complicit with the planned dismantling of these interdisciplines by the neoliberal university and the revanchist state. If ongoing events in Wisconsin and North Carolina are any indication, the unintentional crippling of these fields becomes part of the eventual undoing or weakening of these critical knowledge sites where vital critiques of local and trans-national landscapes emanate. Will ethnic studies and other interdisciplines be the necessary collateral damage in the boycott such that we lose the very sites and people that think critically about why we need to act ethically in a political world, whether within the BDS or in other movements?
Well, of course, STEM is free from impact. The STEM professors are almost completely absent from the BDS movement. They are academics, not propagandists with Ph.D’s.
And of course, Humanities and Social Sciences programs are on the chopping block.
Not because the faculty are anti-Israel, but because they have turned themselves into societal laughingstocks, bizarre caricatures of disgruntled parasites on society who have lost the respect of just about everyone outside of their relatively small academic circles. You act like clowns, but express shock when people treat you like clowns.
That’s the real damage to Humanities and Social Science programs nationally when they raise people like Steven Salaita to hero status and demand academic freedom for me but not for thee.
I have argued strenuously against the academic boycott of Israel, led by people like Steven Salaita, on a number of grounds.
Not the least of those grounds is that academics who insist on violating the academic freedom of Israelis and those who wish to interact with Israelis do damage to the system in its entirety.
That is one of the reasons why the American Association of University Professors, numerous university associations, and over 250 University Presidents issued statements opposing the academic boycott of Israel passed by the American Studies Association in December 2013.
There is a related point to how academic boycotts have a negative ripple effect.
On what ground do the academic boycotters of Israel claim their own academic freedom if they are so quick to deny it to others?
Because they think they are right? What if the people who want to boycott the boycotters believe just as firmly in their own correctness?
Anyway, here’s the punch line to the article by Profs. Manalansan and Moodie:
We suggest the boycott of UIUC be superseded by an expansive coalition and a multi-stranded set of actions to oppose the virulent and revanchist state apparatus and the increasingly imperial/neoliberal university. Concerned citizens of higher educational institutions in this nation must now fight directly and more forcefully with clearer agendas and goals. Waiting is no longer an option.
Yeah, that’ll work.