Statement on American Studies Association Boycott of Israel

By Robert A. Brown | December 20, 2013

Today, I have released a formal statement on behalf of Boston University about the recent vote of the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli universities:

I am disappointed and concerned that the American Studies Association, invoking the principle of academic freedom, would vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Research, teaching, and scholarship flourish through robust exchange of ideas, across borders and among institutions in different parts of the world. Universities and their faculties can often transcend even profound political differences. It is ill-advised to make academic institutions the instrument with which to promote a political agenda by attempting to isolate students and scholars. Boston University cannot support this boycott.

I hope that there will be a serious discussion within our American & New England Studies Program, which has an institutional membership in the ASA that, obviously, is funded by the University. This institutional membership does not come with a vote that is exercised by either the program or the University. The poll taken by the ASA represents the votes of individual members of the organization. We are not prepared to suggest (implicitly or explicitly) to faculty members who hold individual memberships (some of which are funded out of professional funds allocated to individual faculty members) how they should vote. That would lead us onto a slippery slope.

I do hope the faculty in the American & New England Studies Program will consider whether or not continuing membership in the ASA will create the opportunity for a temperate and thoughtful reconsideration of the wisdom of the boycott.

For my part, I am somewhat cautious about following a boycott with a boycott. I'd rather see thoughtful discourse and engagement. This is a case in which the application of the principle of academic freedom is both important but fraught with subtlety. I take the point that the ASA boycott is pernicious and a rather direct attack on academic freedom and scholarly interactions across borders. With my formal statement, I have registered that objection. At the same time, we must be careful about reactions that have the effect of further limiting much-needed dialogue.

Robert A. Brown