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Indiana scholars say their school presidents are wrong on boycott

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Purdue President and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels

Purdue President and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels

This collective response by eight faculty from three Indiana campuses to attacks by the Indiana University and Purdue presidents on the American Studies Association vote for boycott went up yesterday on a Gannett site. We received permission to republish from a representative of the authors.

Mitch Daniels, speaking as president of Purdue University, and Michael McRobbie, representing Indiana University, have condemned the American Studies Association for its decision to boycott Israeli universities for their complicity in the illegal occupation of Palestine.

Daniels said the American Studies Association action was “as clear a violation of academic freedom as one can imagine,” and McRobbie said that the resolution will have a “chilling effect on academic freedom.”

Daniels and McRobbie are wrong. The American Studies Association resolution violates no one’s academic freedom. The resolution is directed only at Israeli institutions, not individuals, and has no bearing on research and scholarship.

As the American Studies Association has written, the boycott is “limited to a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others).”

Further, writes the American Studies Association, “We are expressly not endorsing a boycott of Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange, including presentations at conferences, public lectures at campuses, and collaboration on research and publication. U.S. scholars are not discouraged under the terms of the boycott from traveling to Israel for academic purposes, provided they are not engaged in a formal partnership with or sponsorship by Israeli academic institutions.”

What the resolution does is recognize the role of Israeli universities in discriminating against Palestinians and actively participating in an occupation that has been condemned as illegal by the United Nations.

For example:

  • Israeli universities provide the military-intelligence establishment of Israel, as Omar Barghouti has noted, with research — “on demography, geography, hydrology and psychology, among other disciplines — that directly benefits the occupation.” Israeli universities also commit acts that contravene international law, such as the construction of campuses or dormitories in the occupied Palestinian territory, as Hebrew University has done.
  • Israeli universities systematically discriminate against Palestinians. While Palestinians make up 20 percent of the population of Israel, they are less than 10 percent of the university student body, and less than 1 percent of campus staff. According to Uri Jacobi Yeller, “Palestinian applicants are three times as likely to be rejected by Israeli academic institutions than Jewish applicants.” Palestinians are discriminated against in allocation of dormitories, which is based largely on military service. Similarly, most scholarship and grants to Israeli universities are based on service in the Israeli Defense Force.
  • Israeli universities have tried to repress campus activity perceived as anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe was asked by the president of the University of Haifa to resign after he came out in public support of the boycott, divest and sanctions movement. Pappe instead left Israel for a position at Exeter University in the U.K.
  • Scholars and students at Palestinian universities have almost no academic freedom and work under constant threat. As Riham Barghouti and Helen Murray have written, Palestinian students and scholars are subject to “closure of institutions, military obstruction of access, arrests and deportations, the killing and injuring of students and teachers and attempts to criminalize the Palestinian educational process.” In December 2008, Israeli bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, destroying six buildings, including a research lab and women’s dormitory.
  • Given the opportunity, the large majority of Israeli academics have shown little concern for supporting academic freedom for Palestinians. As Haim Bresheeth and Sherna Berger Gluck have pointed out, a few months before the Gaza incursion by the Israeli Army in December 2008, a petition for academic freedom in the occupied territories was circulated to more than 10,000 Israeli academics. The petition, requesting that the Israeli government allow Palestinians the same freedom enjoyed by Israeli academics, was signed by only 407 Israeli academics — 4 percent of the total.

For these reasons, more than 800 of the leading scholars in the world voted in an open election by a 2-1 margin to support the American Studies Association boycott of Israeli universities. As UCLA historian Robin D.G. Kelley wrote in support of the resolution, “Much like the academic boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era, the point of the resolution is to pressure academic institutions and the state, complicit in the policies of occupation, dispossession and segregation to comply with international law and make real academic freedom possible.”

In fact, the greatest threat to academic freedom related to the boycott resolution has come from U.S. university presidents. Kenyon College President Sean Decatur and IU President McRobbie have reportedly suspended their American studies programs’ membership in the American Studies Association as a result of the ASA’s democratic vote. McRobbie has reportedly done so without any consultation with American Studies faculty, a chilling violation of faculty governance and academic freedom. The next thing we might imagine are university presidents closing entire academic programs because of actions taken by professional organizations with which they disagree.

Daniels, meanwhile, said Purdue officials are “checking into” whether Purdue departments have affiliations with the American Studies Association.

Any move by the university administration to override faculty, student, program or department policy or democracy would clearly undermine academic freedom and faculty governance at Purdue.

The American Studies Association membership should be applauded for joining the struggle for Palestinian equality as one of the most important global civil rights campaigns of our time, and for voting to extend and protect academic freedom for those who do not have it.

Purdue, IU and all universities should do the same.

Signed by: Marlon Bailey, associate professor of gender studies and American studies, Indiana University-Bloomington; Benjamin Balthaser, assistant professor of English, Indiana University-South Bend; Tithi Bhattacharya, associate professor of history, Purdue University; Berenice Carroll, professor emerita political science and women and gender studies, Purdue University; Jake Mattox, associate professor of English, Indiana University-South Bend; Bill V. Mullen, professor of English and American studies, Purdue University; Micol Seigel, associate professor of American studies and history, Indiana University-Bloomington; Shane Vogel, associate professor of English, director of cultural studies, affiliated American studies department, Indiana University-Bloomington.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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10 Responses

  1. OlegR on December 31, 2013, 12:17 pm

    Not a single hard science man/woman among them.
    Somehow i am not really surprised.

    • Danaa on December 31, 2013, 1:58 pm

      You shouldn’t be surprised, OlegR. Most scientists/engineers show little, if any, interest in political affairs. Or matters of Ethics. Not their department, right?

      When was the last time you ran into, say, an electrical engineering professor, who knew more than the average person in the street about US domestic politics? or showed the slightest interest/know-how on foreign policy?

      Besides, an increasingly larger fraction of all US scientists/engineers in academia are Asian, with a smaller hailing from east Eurpean countries (including Russia). Of these, the former are notoriously impervious to political issues in general, whether or not they involve questions of Ethics. And the latter, if somewhat more knowledgeable about European history (as they would be if they received early education in their home countries), are often aligned with the more right wing of the spectrum (no, I don’t mean Libertarian. immigrants of all levels are generally ignorant of that stream in the American political landscape).

      The more interesting news, if you want to call it that, OlegR, is that the number of native American Jewish academics in the Sciences has precipitously declined over the past 2 decades, other than Computer sciences and mathematics, and perhaps, Biotechnology etc. Such people with jewish heritage in fields as material sciences, Electrical Engineering, Physics and the like have increasingly been immigrants (including from Israel). Jewish or not, the ignorance and disinterest in all matters political remains true for the vast majority of men/women of science.

      May be they are just too “nerdy’ to care?

      • puppies on January 1, 2014, 11:58 am

        Besides, “American Studies” is not an exact sciences field by any definition.

    • Hostage on December 31, 2013, 9:37 pm

      Not a single hard science man/woman among them.

      Highjacked a thread lately? I’m still all aglow from Stephen Hawking endorsing BDS and skipping the Peres shindig a few months ago. There are plenty of scientists in ASA and I don’t see why you should jump to any conclusions about the ones at these institutions, just because they haven’t published a letter yet.

  2. American on December 31, 2013, 12:22 pm

    ”Daniels said the American Studies Association action was “as clear a violation of academic freedom as one can imagine,””

    BS… cant have ‘academic’ freedom without individual and personal “convictions” freedom.

  3. MahaneYehude1 on December 31, 2013, 1:08 pm

    “Israeli universities systematically discriminate against Palestinians.”

    Yediot Aharonot Main Israeli Newspaper, Dec/31/2013:

    “The gene responsible for morbid obesity was discovered by Israeli scientist”
    An Israeli scientist discovered, identified and analysed the gene responsible to severe obesity. The mutant gene encodes the inactivated CEP19 protein, causes the autosomal-recessive morbid-obesity syndrome. The research was done on Israeli-Palestinians children suffer from severe obesity caused by a mutation in the gene. Most of the affected children’s parents are relatives and are heterozygotes to the mutant gene. The research was conducted by Dr. Adel Shalata, Israeli-Palestinian, a specialist in Pediatrics and medical and molecular genetics, genetic mapping and cloning disease genes, director of the Genetics Institute at the Ziv Medical Center, Israel and a lecturer in Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in Zefat, Israel.”,7340,L-4471278,00.html

    • Talkback on December 31, 2013, 2:02 pm

      So, does it bring any shekels or not?

    • Djinn on January 2, 2014, 4:42 am

      And your point is? Is this supposed to demonstrate that Palestinians *aren’t* systematically discriminated against? I guess the dimmer Mahane drew NYE duty.

      • MahaneYehude1 on January 2, 2014, 12:56 pm


        Correct, it is only one example published in Israeli newspaper in the same day as the current post. Want more examples?

        I guess the dimmer Mahane drew NYE duty.
        Explanation, please?

  4. MahaneYehude1 on January 2, 2014, 6:24 pm

    More than 100 US universities combat ASA’s decision to boycott Israel:,7340,L-4472651,00.html

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