Academic boycotts-no!

Author:Bowen, Roger W.

If we could manage the global academy, the AAUP would issue an edict disallowing" academic boycotts." No scholars anywhere would then be ostracized because of their own writings or their national government's policies or be prevented from working in whatever nation they wish, with whomever they wish. The AAUP would enshrine the principle of the free flow of ideas, scholarship, and scholars across all borders.

Is that clear enough? Not, I fear, to some well-organized individuals who asked, or demanded, that the AAUP postpone a conference in Bellagio, Italy, where our intent was to discuss an AAUP policy statement on academic boycotts, a statement that is unambiguously opposed to this noxious and blunt instrument that stifles academic freedom.

It was odd that the very people who asked that we postpone the conference are themselves strongly opposed to academic boycotts. They seemed especially worried about academic boycotts against universities in all other nations as well. In fact, the AAUP was the first higher education organization in America, and perhaps the world, to denounce a proposed academic boycott against two Israeli universities by a British academic union last spring.

Why, then, would American and British academics who are opposed to academic boycotts protest a meeting whose central purpose was to denounce academic boycotts?

Initially, the answer had to do with the list of conferees. Among the twenty-one scholars who were invited to attend the meeting in Bellagio were seven scholars--Palestinians, South Africans, Britons, and Americans--who favor an academic boycott against certain Israeli universities. Having seven boycott supporters among twenty-one conferees struck our detractors as "unbalanced" and as "legitimizing" the arguments of the "enemy."

The AAUP stood firm in its commitment to holding the conference, but then our sponsors, the Ford, Nathan Cummings, and Rockefeller foundations, as well as the AAUP elected leadership, urged that we postpone the conference. Their urgings followed an act of negligence on the part of the AAUP that shook their confidence in the integrity of the conference: an anti-Semitic and unscholarly article by a Holocaust denier that was found on the Web was mistakenly included in the fifty or so readings we sent to conferees as background material. We discovered this oversight and promptly wrote the conferees with an apology and a...

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