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Boston U. President rejects Israel academic boycott

Boston U. President rejects Israel academic boycott

But leaves decision on Institutional Membership to American and New England Studies program.

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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Professor, I agree with you. However, I do enjoy the thought of the University President putting the responsibility for this vote exactly where it belongs, and asking his involved faculty members what they are going to do about it.

So, does he exhibit the same temperate manner toward, oh, say, the Ku Klux Klan? The ASA is simply the KKK, without the sheets.

“This is a case in which the application of the principle of academic freedom is both important but fraught with subtlety.”

Overt Anti-semitism is subtle?

President Brown is a wimp!

He’s whingeing.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | December 20, 2013 at 2:09 pm

A big part of leadership is seeing what needs to be done and then inspiring others to move the organization in the right direction.

This guy’s attitude seems to be, “I don’t like the boycott, but I don’t want to decide how to respond.”


He’s “disappointed and concerned”! He hopes for “thoughtful discourse and engagement”! It’s a problem “fraught with subtlety.”

Classic gutless and temporizing college president. He rejects the boycott but not his membership. But he’s really just a proxy for nearly every authority figure in America today.

Hey, fool — how subtle is the annihilation of Israel. Because that’s the end game. Don’t kid yourself. That’s all this is about. It’s not about forcing Israel to compromise; it’s about forcing them out of existence.

Nina Silber is the current director of the New England and American studies program at BU. (She is not related to the former president of the university with the same last name). She is a professor of 19th century American history. Her email address is [email protected] .

The NE and American studies program is closely connected with but not part of the history department. Many of the faculty have joint appointments, the departments share a building (right across the street from the Hillel), and the graduate students have teaching fellowships across the two departments. Most of the American historians at BU have joint appointments. The chair of the history department is Louis Ferleger. His email address is [email protected] .

Since the president left the decision to the NE and American studies program, I think it would be important that any inquiries to them make it clear that their administration has told them to make the decision.

As a graduate of BU’s Graduate School of Management, I can venture a reasonable guess as to why Brown goes squishy on the issue: he is torn between appeasing the uber-liberals of Boston society and the many, many Jews who attend BU particularly its graduate schools.

BU has an abysmal endowment which has obsessed the Board of Trustees for as long as I can remember. In a city where BU competes against Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Northeastern (great relations with local hi-tech companies), Boston College (political bastion, particularly CIA/FBI) and others, BU probably sees itself hamstrung by its very large Jewish student base. I would compare it to how the GOP sees itself hamstrung by Tea Party conservatives in its quest to be good Democrats.

Although as with most universities, BU nurtures some excellent programs, I don’t have a very high opinion of my alma mater as a university. If I had to do it again, I would have gone elsewhere.