When violators of academic freedom insist on their own academic freedom.
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?
Now you can see why universities reacted so swiftly in rejecting the academic boycott — it’s easy to start, but hard to stop.
As posted earlier, Inside Higher Ed reports that Salaita allegedly was denied an offer at U. Illinois at at Urbana-Champaign because of his tweets. I don’t know if that’s true, if it was the anti-Israeli views expressed in the tweets, or if it was that the tweets arguably presented Salaita as an unhinged and unstable demagogue who would bring disrepute on his institution and intimidate his students; or any or none of the above.
Many of those rushing to Salaita’s defense on the ground of academic freedom, however, themselves are among the worst violators of academic freedom through the anti-Israel academic boycott. They would turn away a Dean or representative of an Israeli academic institution, would bar joint programs and research, and even cooperation in journal publications.
In a clear case of national origin discrimination, these boycotters apply a litmus test to Israeli scholars (that they are not representatives of or officials of their institutions) applied to no other nationality.
The inherent contradiction of destroyers of academic freedom objecting to one of their own allegedly (I repeat, allegedly) being denied academic freedom will be lost on the academic boycotters.
David Palumbo-Liu is a Stanford Professor who supports the academic boycott of Israel, yet is pleading for University Presidents to defend Salaita on the same academic freedom grounds on which they rejected the academic boycott:
I saw this comment at Crooked Timber faculty blog making a similar point:
The resolution passed by the ASA supported by Corey [Robin of Brooklyn College] and Steven [Salaita] prevents scholars affiliated with the management of Israeli institutions from speaking at ASA conferences (deans, gov’t official, institute heads, etc). That violates academic freedom in my book.
So now academic freedom is violated again. Goose/Gander
I guess by your standards no academic boycott is arbitrary if you think the cause is just. If so, we both could make a very long list of countries whose affiliated scholars we could boycott. Like what’s happening in China/Tibet? Saudi Arabia? Egypt? Myanmar? Or why not just name people?
There is a reason that the likes of AAUP oppose academic boycotts and why the South African boycott generally left out academics.
btw-when I think of slippery slope, I think of an exception to a principle (academic freedom in this case) that can lead to further exceptions, using similar justifications or not, since the bright line was erased.
Regardless of how this turns out, I hope that Salaita and his fellow academic boycotters will see the error of their academic boycott ways.
But I doubt they will. Because they believe they are right.
UPDATE: NYU Prof. Lisa Duggan, current President of the ASA and a very aggressive supporter of the academic boycott, also has tweeted out for University Presidents who opposed the ASA boycott to support Salaita (linking to Palumbo-Liu’s article):
UPDATE: Vincente Diaz, co-Chair of the search committee at UL-UC that recommended hiring Salaita also is an academic boycott supporter, having supported not only the ASA boycott but also the boycott by the Association for Asian American Studies.DONATE
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