UI President Mason opposes academic boycott of Israel

UI Department of American Studies to evaluate standing with American Studies Association in light of boycott

Vanessa Miller
Published: January 3 2014 | 3:21 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:36 am in
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University of Iowa President Sally Mason has joined a growing number of academic leaders, organizations and institutions in opposition of an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Some U.S. scholarly organizations, including the American Studies Association in December, have endorsed the boycott, but the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities on Thursday joined the opposition.

UI President Sally Mason, immediate past chair of the APLU board, signed the opposition statement that said the group’s executive committee and president “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,” the statement read. “Freedom of inquiry and expression are the foundational principles of this vital work, and free exchange of ideas is its lifeblood.”

The boycott, according to the statement, limits the ability for American and Israeli academic institutions to exchange ideas and collaborate on projects, including those advancing humanity, developing technologies, and improving health worldwide.

The group calls the boycott “severely misguided and wrongheaded,” and it urged widespread opposition.

In a statement, Mason said she respects others’ rights to voice their opinions but categorically opposes boycotts of universities “because such tactics undermine academic freedom by curtailing the free exchange of ideas.”

“The University of Iowa holds academic freedom and free expression among its very highest principles,” Mason said in the statement.

A backlash around the topic erupted after the American Studies Association voted last month to endorse the boycott, which was called for by Palestinian civil society in 2004. The ASA, on its website, explains that it supports a boycott of Israeli academic institutions “given that these Israeli institutions are complicit in the multitiered system of oppression that has denied Palestinians basic rights.”

“This boycott targets institutions and their representatives,” according to the ASA,“not individual scholars, students or cultural workers, who will be able to participate in the ASA conference or give public lectures at campuses, provided they are not expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions … or of the Israeli government.”

Smaller scholarly associations, like the Association for Asian Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, also have supported the boycott.

The UI Department of American Studies has an institutional membership in the ASA, according to UI News Services. Some universities have withdrawn their memberships in light of the controversy, but Mason said that is a matter for the department to decide.

Department chair Horace Porter said his department will “thoroughly discuss the boycott’s implications and ramifications and evaluate its own standing in the ASA” when the spring semester begins, according to UI news.

“I will respect whatever position they decide to take,” Mason said.

Other academics who signed the APLU statement opposing the boycott include Randy Woodson, chancellor of North Carolina State University and chair of the APLU board of directors; Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia and secretary of the APLU Council of Presidents; Jim Clements, president of Clemson University and chair-elect of the APLU board; Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor of the University of Kansas and chair of the APLU Council of Presidents; and Peter McPherson, president of the APLU.

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