The UK Boycott: What They Are Saying
Posted: June 18, 2007
A growing chorus of university professors, chancellors, deans, and presidents in the United States and abroad is expressing outrage in response to the University and College Union's (UCU) proposed boycott against Israeli academic institutions, with many calling the British academic union's move repugnant and a violation of fundamental principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.
The following is a selection of quotations from those prominent academics and others who are speaking out:
"The international community of scholars is an important voice in bringing insight and perspective to complex, inter-related global issues. Silencing one of those voices runs counter to the very foundations of education. Ideas must be shared and debated in open, honest exchanges. Only then will we advance the academic dialogue that is an important facet of mutual understanding." -- Hank Brown, President, University of Colorado, July 17, 2007.
"As Rhodes Scholars, we find this proposed boycott to be unjustified and an egregious violation of the basic rules of the academic community.
"Freedom of speech and inclusion of all parties who are committed to pursuing truth are essential values in academic life. Encouraging boycotts of universities and their professors violates these fundamental values. Differences must be rationally discussed, not silenced through such exclusionary tactics.
"Singling out Israeli universities for censure also suggests an unjust double standard and unfair prejudice against the Jewish State." -- Statement by prominent Rhodes Scholars released by American Jewish Congress, June 26, 2007.
"Open inquiry and exchange of ideas, the values that the UCU would suppress in universities, are fundamental to the values of the University of Virginia. For this reason, faculty members have asked me to issue this statement condemning the UCU's position for its hostility to what President Bollinger calls, 'the fundamental values of the academy.' ...
"The UCU's position is shameful and unacceptable. No university worthy of the name can participate in a boycott or quarantine on knowledge, ideas, and open discourse." -- John T. Casteen, President, University of Virginia, June 22, 2007.
"... PEN American Center emphatically opposes any efforts to inhibit the free international exchange of literature, art, information or knowledge, including academic and cultural boycotts. We believe that such boycotts threaten the free expression rights not only of those associated with the boycotted institutions but also of those in the countries where the boycott is practiced, and that the universally guaranteed right of all to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers includes the right to engage in direct, face-to-face discussions, debates, challenges and collaborations." -- PEN American Center, statement, June 22, 2007.
"…As many of the U.C.U.'s own members have publicly stated, such a boycott would also be a dangerous attack on academic freedom.
"In the sphere of higher education, the appraisal of any professor at any institution should be based not on political arguments but on academic criteria — whether that professor is an effective teacher whose scholarly research is deemed by peers to make an important contribution to a field of study.
Moreover, the integrity of any college or university depends on the unquestioned ability of the scholars based there to engage in the full, free and responsible exchange of theories and ideas internationally with the colleagues in their discipline, and on campus with the students in their classroom." -- Judith Shapiro, President, Barnard College, in a letter published in The New York Times, June 19, 2007.
"The recent vote by the new University and College Union of Britain to advance a boycott against Israeli academic institutions is misguided and destructive as it would effectively silence rather than promulgate open debate about the very issues around which it seeks to create dialogue. It would not only damage a vitally important channel for reasoned debate in Israel, but also set a precedent that could poison academic environments and shut down academic exchanges everywhere." -- Susan H. Fuhrman, President of Teacher's College at Columbia University, June 19, 2007.
"The boycott of Israeli universities which is being considered by the United Kingdom's University and College Union (UCU) should be thoroughly condemned. ... It would be a gross violation of the values which form the foundation, and progressive evolution, of civil society if the UCU endorsed this action. I urge our British university colleagues to reject the boycott proposal.
"I join in solidarity with President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University and Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau of the University of California, Berkeley, in support of unfettered interaction with Israeli scholars and institutions and in saying to those members of the UCU who would pursue this deplorable action: if you choose to isolate Israeli universities, you should add McGill to your boycott list. We will stand steadfast against those who seek to undermine academic freedom." -- Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University, Montreal, June 19, 2007.
"I want to join my colleagues around the world in urging our colleagues in Britain's University and College Union (UCU) to reject, swiftly and decisively, the proposed boycott against Israeli scholars and academic institutions.
"The UCU members who put forward this reprehensible proposal are seeking to isolate and disenfranchise the entire college and university community in Israel because they disagree with Israeli government policy. This runs counter to everything the international university community holds amongst its highest values, including freedom of expression, respect for divergent views, and academic integrity. I concur with Haifa University President Aaron Ben-Zeev that education is the best way to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence, and this should be the goal of everyone who pursues enlightenment.
"The University of California is a strong proponent of collaboration with Israeli universities. We will continue to cooperate with them in an active manner, and we will fight any efforts to disenfranchise Israeli colleagues. The sooner the UCU defeats this incendiary proposal, the sooner we can all turn our focus back to where it belongs on educating our students and generating new knowledge and a new generation to benefit all the citizens of this global community. -- Robert C. Dynes, President, University of California, June 18, 2007.
"The illegitimacy of that sort of behavior is so conspicuous it will have no traction with American universities. It's an insult to everything we stand for; everything we claim makes us special in our society. We talk about freedom, free speech, unfettered scholarship, and then the Brits behave in this way, inviting political intervention in their affairs from their own government and boycotts from universities who disagree with them. I can't imagine what they were thinking." -- Stephen Trachtenberg, President, George Washington University, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, June 18, 2007.
"I was deeply disappointed by the vote of the University and College Union in Great Britain proposing a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. It is an idea that NYU rejects completely, for such a boycott — at heart a disavowal of the free exchange of ideas — is antithetical to the values and tenets of institutions of advanced learning.
"I am proud to say that on June 1, just a day or two after that vote was held, NYU announced that it was moving forward with plans to establish a new Study Abroad site in Israel in conjunction with Tel Aviv University. Though the timing was fortuitous, I was pleased by it, believing that a demonstrated rejection of the boycott vote is the strongest possible response." -- John Sexton, President, New York University, June 15, 2007.
"We reject outright the call for an academic boycott. It is a contradiction in terms and in direct conflict with the mission of a university. It betrays a misunderstanding of the academic mission which is founded squarely on academic freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech. Any institution worthy of the title of university has the responsibility to protect these values, and it is particularly disturbing to find an academic union attacking academic freedom in this way." -- Professor Malcolm Grant, President, University College London, June 15, 2007.
"The threatened boycott of Israeli universities by Britain's University and College Union is a dangerous and unsupportable attack on the core values of academic life.
"The attempt by one group of scholars to stifle the views of another is an affront to modern society, and must be condemned wherever it arises. Civil discourse, regardless of opposing political opinions, is the only hope for addressing conflict. The world desperately needs more international trade in ideas; we cannot afford less.
"Those British professors who have brought forward this shameful scheme ought to reflect on the example and consequence of intolerance they are communicating to their students.
"If a university is not a safe forum for ideas, popular or otherwise, it fails in its very purpose." -- Stephen J. Toope, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, June 15, 2007.
"The British University and College Union (UCU) recently voted to propose a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and scholars. I stand opposed. As chancellor of a campus that has seen its share of contentious discourse around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I know firsthand these dialogues can be quite difficult. But an attempt to shun an entire community of scholars based on what appears to be political opposition to the policies of the incumbent government is misguided, outrageous and wrong.
"We strongly support academic freedom and freedom of speech. An academic boycott is diametrically opposed to the core values of our university. The highly charged atmosphere in the Middle East demands more contact with the professoriate, not less. Our campus is in fact increasing its contacts with scholars from Israel and the Middle East. Conversely, an academic boycott stifles the intellectual honesty and open discussion that are essential to a rational understanding of any subject. It is a bad idea.
"True academic freedom cannot thrive in an environment where any scholar is oppressed, excluded or punished for his or her views, whatever they may be, or whatever we may assume them to be." -- Michael V. Drake, M.D., Chancellor, University of California, Irvine, June 15, 2007.
"This boycott is a threat not only to Israeli academics but also to open societies everywhere. As president of Yeshiva University, an American university that has immutable ties to Israel, I proudly add our institution to the roster of universities on the boycott list and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.
"This is a hypocritical act that defies the fundamental raison d'ętre of a university. This boycott erodes the sanctity of the academic sphere by introducing illegitimate political positions that amount to political blackmail. Moreover, it is irresponsible and detracts from the noble charge of the academy to enlighten and elevate intellectual discourse and advance humankind." -- Richard Joel, President, Yeshiva University, June 15, 2007.
"I share the growing outrage over the efforts by some members of Britain' s University and College Union to promulgate a boycott against Israeli academics and academic institutions. Their threat to cut off all funding, visits, and joint publishing with Israeli institutions violates the fundamental principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech that are the hallmarks of great universities nationally and internationally. We hold these values most deeply at Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement.
"I join in solidarity with President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University in support of Israeli scholars and institutions, and I join him in saying this to those members of the British UCU who would pursue this reprehensible action: if you seek to isolate Israeli universities then you must also include Berkeley, along with Columbia, in your boycott. We stand with all — including Prime Minister Tony Blair and British higher education officials — who have rightfully and strongly condemned this effort."
-- Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley, June 14, 2007
"As a citizen, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent vote by Britain's new University and College Union to advance a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. As a university professor and president, I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment. In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.
"At Columbia I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities that the UCU is now all too eager to isolate -- as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their governments' policies. Therefore, if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education."
-- Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University, June 12, 2007
"... once again, my colleagues and I at the University of Miami join with colleagues here and abroad in condemning this renewed encroachment into the most basic of freedoms that lie at the heart of academics.
"Academic freedom and the necessity for free intellectual inquiry and exchange cannot be assumed or taken lightly. In too many places around the world intellectuals do not have the right to pursue research and to make public its results without fear of being silenced or punished.
"At UM, we are deeply committed to the free exchange of scholarly ideas and to free and lively intellectual discourse -- even around the most controversial of subjects. Many of our faculty and I have personal experience with the commitment of Israeli universities to academic freedom. Members of the faculty and students at Israel's universities are always welcome at the University of Miami." -- Donna E. Shalala, President, University of Miami, June 8, 2007.
"We urge the membership of UCU, which will be discussing the motion over the next twelve months, to reject it. We join with others in condemning the motion as antithetical to the positive role of free scientific inquiry in improving the lives of all citizens of the world, and in promoting cooperation among nations, despite political differences. In the context of the highly charged atmosphere of the Middle East, it is crucial to keep channels of communication open in order to foster a dialogue that is inclusive of all affected people." -- American Association for the Advancement of Science, press statement, June 6, 2007.
"Boycotting universities and their faculty restricts the flow of ideas and it is anathema to academic freedom." -- Edward J. McElroy, President, American Federation of Teachers, May 31, 2007.