Robert A. Brown, President of Boston University, will be issing a formal statement rejecting the Amercian Studies Association’s anti-Israeli academic boycott.  The statement is not yet posted on BU’s website, but was obtained by Legal Insurrection and confirmed with the President’s office.

President Brown, however, is deferring the decision on withdrawal of Institutional Membership to the American and New England Studies Department on grounds of the academic freedom of that department.

Here is an email from President Brown to a Legal Insurrection reader announcing the statement and the membership deferral.  We confirmed with the President’s office the authenticity of the email:

Thank you for your email expressing your concern about the recent vote of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli universities. Please see below my formal statement about this unfortunate action by the ASA.

I am disappointed and concerned that the American Studies Association, invoking the principle of academic freedom, would vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Research, teaching, and scholarship flourish through robust exchange of ideas, across borders and among institutions in different parts of the world. Universities and their faculties can often transcend even profound political differences. It is ill-advised to make academic institutions the instrument with which to promote a political agenda by attempting to isolate students and scholars. Boston University cannot support this boycott.

I hope that there will be a serious discussion within our American and New England Studies Program which has an institutional membership in the ASA which, obviously, is funded by the University. This institutional membership does not come with a vote that is exercised by either the program or the University. The poll taken by the ASA represents the votes of individual members of the organization. We are not prepared to suggest (implicitly or explicitly) to faculty members who hold individual memberships (some of which are funded out of professional funds allocated to individual faculty members) how they should vote. That would lead us onto a slippery slope.

I do hope the faculty in the American and New England Studies Program will consider whether or not continuing membership in the ASA will create the opportunity for a temperate and thoughtful reconsideration of the wisdom of the boycott.

For my part, I am somewhat cautious about following a boycott with a boycott. I’d rather see thoughtful discourse and engagement. This is a case in which the application of the principle of academic freedom is both important but fraught with subtlety. I take the point that the ASA boycott is pernicious and a rather direct attack on academic freedom and scholarly interactions across borders. With my formal statement, I have registered that objection. At the same time, we must be careful about reactions that have the effect of further limiting much-needed dialogue.


Robert A. Brown
Boston University

Presidents who defer the Institutional Membership decision to the American Studies Departments are not fully answering the problem. Institutional Membership lends the University’s name to the ASA boycott, at least indirectly. The issue is not departmental, it reflects on the University as a whole, and subjects Israeli visiting faculty and faculty with joint appointments outside the American Studies Departments to the boycott.

To revoke Institutional Membership violates no one’s academic freedom, it simply is a statement by the University that it will not be a party to what the University recognizes to be a grievous breach of academic freedom.

That is a statement the President of Boston University apparently is unwilling to make.

Related: Thanks to Legal Insurrection readers for leading fight against Israel boycott


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