University Officials and Academic Institutions Respond to ASA Boycott

January 08, 2014

On December 16, 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) membership voted to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  In response, dozens of American colleges, universities and academic institutions have issued statements rejecting the boycott, and some have withdrawn from the ASA, including Brandeis University, Penn State Harrisburg University, Indiana University and Kenyon College.

Below is a selection of quotes rejecting the ASA’s boycott:

University Officials

President Fredrick Lawrence
Brandeis University

"Brandeis University condemns the American Studies Association's (ASA) boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel. I am proud that Brandeis was one of the very first institutions in the world to withdraw as an institutional member of the ASA, and I urge other institutions to follow our lead and disassociate from the ASA."

President Karen Gould
Brooklyn College

"Brooklyn College firmly rejects the recent resolution of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions. This resolution runs contrary to the underlying spirit and principle of academic freedom, which seeks to protect intellectual inquiry and debate across a wide range of viewpoints and human experience. Our college has a long history of positive engagement with Israeli universities and scholars. We remain fully committed to these and other institutional partnerships that help our faculty and students pursue important research and study in Israel and around the world. Efforts to curtail dialogue and academic exchange are wrongheaded and troubling."

President Janet Napolitano
University of California

"The University of California prides itself on a rich tradition of free speech and diversity of thought. Universities depend on the unrestrained exchange of ideas, and it is our role to defend academic freedom and our scholars' ability to pursue research of their choice. An academic boycott goes against the spirit of the University of California, which has long championed open dialogue and collaboration with international scholars."

Chancellor George Blumenthal
University of California, Santa Cruz

"At UC Santa Cruz, our scholars develop and share ideas with academic colleagues from around the world. As UC President Napolitano has stated, a boycott could impede the free and open exchange of these ideas. As such, it is inconsistent with the principles that are the hallmark of the University of California."

President John Garvey
Catholic University of America

"The American Studies Association’s recent call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is lamentable. The Association has appointed itself as a kind of inept volunteer fire department, aiming to put out the Israeli-Palestinian conflagration by throwing gasoline on the fire. That’s not exactly right. It has decided to pour gas not on the source of the fire but on bystanders, some of whom are trying to extinguish the flames. No good can come of punishing academic institutions for the shortcomings, real and perceived, of their nations’ leaders and policies.

Rather than restricting academic freedom to advance political causes, academic organizations like the ASA should be working to foster dialogue with their foreign interlocutors, perhaps especially those they disagree with. The academy – universities, faculties, and satellite institutions – is a place where research, open discussion, and creative thought can lead to reforms and new approaches to longstanding problems. I hope the ASA’s call for a boycott produces just the opposite of its intended result – a proliferation of U.S. linkages with Israeli universities and other universities in the Middle East."

Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly
City University of New York

"The free exchange of ideas is at the heart of the academic enterprise. Any effort to impede that flow is antithetical to the values that universities hold most dear. The City University of New York is proud of its many international collaborations and is committed to extending and deepening those relations. We take this opportunity to reaffirm our long association with Israeli scholars and universities, and we note with particular pleasure a new joint MBA program between the Zicklin School at Baruch College and the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion."

President David P. Angel
Clark University

"Clark University rejects the call for an academic boycott of Israel made by the American Studies Association. Academic boycotts, whether of Israel or any other country, undermine the free exchange of thoughts and ideas that are central to academic freedom. Clark University fully supports the statement of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) against academic boycotts."

President Lee C. Bollinger
Columbia University

"I have made my opposition to academic boycotts of Israel emphatically clear over the years, most prominently in my 2007 letter that was signed by some 400 of my fellow college and university presidents speaking out against the British University and College Union's boycott of Israeli scholars and universities. I stand by that statement today when considering the recent vote by the American Studies Association for just such a boycott. To be sure, it is entirely appropriate for our campuses to provide a forum for discussion and debate about the policies of any government, including our own.  

But the ASA's vote runs counter to this essential academic and political freedom and, taken to its logical conclusion, would necessarily result in boycotts of fellow scholars and peer institutions from many nations around the world.  I reject the ASA's position which would compromise an essential value of universities in an increasingly global society—and we look forward to continuing Columbia's long history of engagement with our peers from Israel."

President Susan Herbst
University of Connecticut

"The recent votes of two scholarly societies -- the American Studies Association and Association for Asian American Studies -- to endorse the Palestinian boycott of Israeli academic institutions is contrary to both academic freedom and the international exchange of ideas. The University of Connecticut joins the American Association of University Professors in firmly opposing all such boycotts. Choosing one nation for a boycott is patently unfair and represents a disturbing philosophy among some segments of the academy."

President James Wagner
Emory University

"Over the past seven years, Emory has been approached repeatedly by groups from off campus requesting that Emory commit to an academic boycott of Israeli scholars and scholarly institutions. Those seeking to organize such an action claim to do so as an expression of dissent concerning certain Israeli government policies and actions with which they disagree. Most recently, three academic professional organizations have endorsed such an action.  

Emory’s own and newly-penned policy on Respect for Freedom of Expression is clear about the need to protect the rights of others. An academic boycott would clearly violate the right of university faculty to academic freedom and so cannot be supported. The statement of the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which Emory is a member, states well Emory’s position, when it says that it 'strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.… Any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general.' In agreement with our AAU colleagues, Emory also opposes an academic boycott."

President Drew Faust
Harvard University

"Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars. The recent resolution of the ASA proposing to boycott Israeli universities represents a direct threat to these ideals, ideals which universities and scholarly associations should be dedicated to defend."

President Michael A. McRobbie
Indiana University

"Indiana University joins other leading research universities in condemning in the strongest possible terms the boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel as proposed by the American Studies Association and other organizations. Boycotts such as these have a profound chilling effect on academic freedom, and universities must be clear and unequivocal in rejecting them. Indiana University strongly endorses the recent statement on this matter by the Association of American Universities and the long-standing position in this area of the American Association of University Professors. 

Indiana University will contact the ASA immediately to withdraw as an institutional member. We urge the leadership of the ASA and other associations supporting the boycott to rescind this dangerous and ill-conceived action as a matter of urgency."

President Ronald J. Daniels
Provost Robert C. Lieberman
Johns Hopkins University

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, of course, a complex matter on which many in our community hold passionate and competing views. We can all agree, however, that one essential ingredient to the resolution of that conflict will be the free exchange of information and open debate of ideas. This boycott is a contradiction, one that threatens what it purports to protect: the freedom of thought and expression that is the heartbeat of our academic community."

President Sean Decatur
Kenyon College

"The ASA is, first and foremost, an academic society aimed at the promotion of interdisciplinary studies of American culture and history. This commitment to scholarship, teaching, and learning is what drew Kenyon to participate in ASA activities in the past. But, as the president of a College with an unwavering commitment to the liberal arts and the concept of academic freedom, I reject the notion of a boycott of academic institutions as a geopolitical tool. I concur with the decision of our American Studies program to withdraw as an institutional member of the ASA."

President Mary Sue Coleman
Provost Martha Pollack
University of Michigan

"The University of Michigan strongly opposes the boycott of academic institutions in Israel that was recently endorsed by several academic associations. While we affirm the right of individual faculty, faculties, and professional academic associations to hold and express different viewpoints, we believe that academic boycotts violate the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, which are fundamental to our missions of education and research. The University of Michigan is committed to continuing and strengthening its long-standing and productive institutional relationships with Israeli universities and institutes."

Chancellor Carole L. Folt
Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost James W. Dean, Jr.
University of North Carolina

"The ASA resolution directly opposes the principles of access that encourage collaborations among our faculty and students, important research that benefits North Carolinians, our nation and the global community. For that reason, UNC-Chapel Hill strongly rejects both the boycott and the actions called for in the resolution."

President Kathleen McCartney
Smith College

"Smith College upholds the ideals of academic freedom and engagement with global scholarship, scholars, research and ideas. The college rejects the American Studies Association's proposed boycott of Israeli universities and will continue to support our students and faculty in pursuing opportunities in Israel and with their Israeli counterparts. In recent years, such opportunities have included hosting Israeli scholars on our campus for residencies in the U.S.; hosting summer Global Engagement Seminars for our students in Jerusalem; and running a thriving Jewish Studies program. Additionally, we are actively exploring the possibility of faculty and student exchanges with Israel."

Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos
Vanderbilt University

"Vanderbilt University stands with its Association of American Universities colleagues in opposing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as proposed by the American Studies Association. There are few principles more central to our mission as a university than an unwavering commitment to academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas across the globe. We believe this boycott, by its very nature, is incompatible with this principle. Vanderbilt faculty can and have taken their own positions on this issue, which is their right and indeed their responsibility as scholars, just as it is our duty to protect their freedom to do so. As a university, we promote spirited and intense debate on the most intractable problems facing our society, with the belief that this coming together of often opposing viewpoints leads to better understanding and progress. We believe that shutting out an entire nation’s universities and academic organizations only stands to prolong and perpetuate the problems the framers of the boycott wish to address."

President Michael S. Roth
Wesleyan University

"Boycotts don't serve these debates; they seek to cut them off by declaring certain academic institutions and their faculty off-limits. This tactic, in the words of Richard Slotkin, an emeritus professor here at Wesleyan University, 'is wrong in principle, politically impotent, intellectually dishonest and morally obtuse.'

"As president of Wesleyan, and as a historian, I deplore this politically retrograde resolution of the American Studies Association. Under the guise of phony progressivism, the group has initiated an irresponsible attack on academic freedom. Others in academia should reject this call for an academic boycott.”

President Peter Salovey
Yale University

"Any attempt to close off discussion or dialogue among scholars is antithetical to the fundamental values of scholarship and academic freedom. I stand with the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities in my strong opposition to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. At the same time, I acknowledge that individual faculty members have the right to their own opinions and beliefs, even if I disagree with those beliefs."

Academic Institutions

American Association of University Professors

"The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is disappointed in the vote announced this morning by the membership of the American Studies Association (ASA) to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. While the AAUP takes no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have opposed all academic boycotts in principle since 2005 when we published our report On Academic Boycotts."

American Council on Education
President Molly Borbett Broad

 “In recent weeks, several scholarly associations have voted on formal motions to boycott activities involving faculty and staff at Israeli academic institutions. Such actions are misguided and greatly troubling, as they strike at the heart of academic freedom—a central tenet of the teaching, research and service that takes place every day at colleges and universities worldwide. This is why the American Council on Education has consistently opposed such boycotts throughout its nearly 100-year history. 

Many of these same scholars would decry efforts by trustees, governors or state legislators to infringe on faculty teaching and research activities at their own institutions, and yet these boycotts involve more sweeping repercussions, impeding global academic relationships and the constructive exchange of ideas among countries and cultures. One could easily see such boycotts moving to other countries and scholarly pursuits, which would only lead to a further erosion of academic freedom and free thought in a world that is so desperate for it.

We hope the leadership of these organizations soon reconsiders their actions and trust that other scholarly organizations will see the troubling implications of such boycotts and avoid similar votes.”

Association of American Universities
Executive Committee

"The Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Three U.S. scholarly organizations have now expressed support for such a boycott. Any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general.

Academic freedom is the freedom of university faculty responsibly to produce and disseminate knowledge through research, teaching, and service, without undue constraint. It is a principle that should not be abridged by political considerations. American colleges and universities, as well as like institutions elsewhere, must stand as the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom.

Efforts to address political issues, or to address restrictions on academic freedom, should not themselves infringe upon academic freedom. Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it. We urge American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts."

  • William C. Powers, President, The University of Texas at Austin – Chair
  • Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania – Vice Chair
  • Scott S. Cowen, President, Tulane University – Past Chair
  • Richard H. Brodhead, President, Duke University
  • Michael V. Drake, Chancellor, University of California, Irvine
  • Bernadette Gray-Little, The University of Kansas
  • Mark A. Nordenberg, Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh
  • Morton O. Schapiro, President, Northwestern University
  • Lou Anna K. Simon, President, Michigan State University
  • David Skorton, President, Cornell University
  • Hunter R. Rawlings III, President, Association of American Universities – ex-officio
Association Public and Land-grant Universities
Executive Committee and President

“The Executive Committee and President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) strongly oppose the boycott of Israeli academic institutions supported by certain U.S. scholarly organizations. 

The core mission of the academic community is to create and disseminate knowledge through research, teaching and service.  Freedom of inquiry and expression are the foundational principles of this vital work, and free exchange of ideas is its lifeblood.  This boycott wrongly limits the ability of American and Israeli academic institutions and their faculty members to exchange ideas and collaborate on critical projects that advance humanity, develop new technologies, and improve health and well-being across the globe. 

Members of the academic community certainly have the right to express their views, but the call for a boycott in this case is severely misguided and wrongheaded. We urge others to express their opposition as well.”

  • Randy Woodson, Chancellor, North Carolina State University, APLU Board Chair
  • Sally Mason, President, University of Iowa, APLU Board Immediate Past Chair
  • Jim Clements, President, Clemson University, APLU Board Chair-Elect
  • Bernadette Gray-Little, Chancellor, University of Kansas, APLU Council of Presidents Chair
  • Teresa Sullivan, President, University of Virginia, APLU Council of Presidents Secretary
  • Peter McPherson, President, APLU