Fund-raising is the most important part of the job for a college or university president in America. Today’s article in the New York Times quotes four different presidents (and one ex-president) who sharply criticize the American Studies Association’s boycott of academic institutions in Israel. But the article, by Tamar Lewin, “Prominent Scholars, Citing Importance of Academic Freedom, Denounce Israeli Boycott,” does not even ask whether financial donors, big or otherwise, are making threats to turn off the money spigot.
This is not to say that the college presidents are only pretending to be concerned about their view of academic freedom. In particular, the president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, is a sincere and impressive scholar who doubtless believes in everything she said. But she is certainly not unaware of financial pressure, and the public deserves to know about it.
And how hard would it be to find a big donor who says openly that he will stop giving unless his intended beneficiary denounces the Israel boycott? The mega-rich are not shy about making their views public. An article that so piously endorses “academic freedom” ought to point out that it can be threatened from many directions. [When Harvard’s Kennedy School distanced itself from its own professor’s article on the Israel lobby in 2006, donor pressure was cited in news coverage.]
Overall, today’s article continues the NYT’s pattern of lopsided bias. Only one person who favors the boycott is quoted, surrounded by all the hostile voices. Fortunately, he is eloquent:
“I know many Jews are against the occupation but don’t believe in the boycott,” said Colin Dayan, the Robert Penn Warren professor in the humanities at Vanderbilt University. “I have noticed, as a Jew, that the one subject that can never be critiqued is action taken by Israel against Palestinians. What made it clear to me that I needed to speak out – although it puts me in a difficult position vis-a-vis family and friends – is that the situation for Palestinians is deteriorating. It’s worse than I ever would have imagined.”