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Monday, January 06, 2014

#BDS_FAIL: American Studies Association turns itself into a pariah

Until last month's vote, I would bet that most of you had never heard of the American Studies Association. Now, you all have, and so have millions of other people. In fact, even the New York Times is reporting today that the group has turned itself into a pariah.
In sharp contrast to the international campaign for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which had been slow to gain a foothold in the United States, the campaign to rebuke the American Studies Association has spread rapidly since the group’s mid-December boycott vote. The presidents of more than 80 United States colleges have condemned the vote.
“Such boycotts threaten academic speech and exchange, which it is our solemn duty as academic institutions to protect,” Carolyn A. Martin, president of Amherst College, said in a statement posted on the university’s website. Nearly all of the presidents’ statements have similarly denounced the boycott as impeding the flow of ideas. Several have cited specific collaborations or exchanges with Israeli universities as evidence of their institutional commitment to maintaining strong relations with Israel.
At least five institutions — Bard College, Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg — have withdrawn from A.S.A. membership.
As of last week, the boycott also had been denounced by three of the United States’ most prominent higher-education organizations: the American Association of University Professors, the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities. “Such actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom,” said the American Council on Education’s president, Molly Corbett Broad.
The scale and speed of the backlash against the boycott is striking, considering that the A.S.A. has only about 4,000 members and lacks any formal ties with Israeli institutions.
“Why anyone should care what the A.S.A. thinks bewilders me. It is not a very large academic association, and it is not one that characteristically has a big impact in the academy,” said Stanley N. Katz, a higher-education policy expert at Princeton University and president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies. 
The A.S.A.’s recent experience clearly shows that boycott resolutions carry a potential price.
After the resolution passed last month, with the support of two-thirds of the 1,252 association members voting on it, the A.S.A.’s national office was too deluged with angry phone calls to carry on with business and ended up having to close for a day, according to John F. Stevens, the group’s executive director.
Two New York State lawmakers, State Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx and State Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, said they planned to propose legislation that would cut off state support to any public or private college that participated in the A.S.A. or any other group involved in a boycott of Israel. The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, an advocacy group devoted to fighting anti-Semitism on college campuses, has threatened to challenge the A.S.A.’s tax-exempt status.
Among those who have spoken out against the A.S.A.’s boycott, Lawrence H. Summers, a former president of Harvard University, has called on college administrators to deny faculty members funds to attend A.S.A. meetings. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has sent the presidents of all universities with ties to the A.S.A. a letter similarly urging them to dissociate their institutions from the A.S.A. and deny faculty members funds to participate in the group or travel to its events.
At least one college president, however, has publicly resisted calls to crack down on the A.S.A. Christopher L. Eisgruber, president of Princeton University, has responded to alumni inquiries about the boycott with a letter saying he opposes it but does “not intend to denounce the A.S.A., make it unwelcome on campus or inhibit the ability of faculty members to affiliate with it.” The better approach, he said, is to engage with the association and hope “more thoughtful and reasonable members will eventually bring the organization to its senses.”
Read the whole thing. It will be really interesting to see what happens to the ASA's funding in the next 6-12 months. Maybe they can get a gift from the Saudis?

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