Middlebury College Faculty Object To Group’s Boycott Of Israeli Academic Institutions

Jan 14, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has found its way into a controversy that has some American colleges and universities at odds with the American Studies Association, a group that promotes American History and culture. That’s because the ASA recently issued a resolution to boycott Israeli universities over that country’s treatment of Palestinians.

Middlebury College is a member of the ASA and is among up to 20 other colleges and universities that, in response, issued a statement condemning the ASA boycott.

Michael Newberry, Professor of American Studies and English and American Literatures at Middlebury College, said the ASAs boycott isn’t likely to change anyone’s policy, but it does have practical consequences for the organization. “It has alienated a tremendous number of people. Over 200 university presidents have decried the boycott. The largest association of American professors has condemned the decision,” Newbury said.

Middlebury College sent a letter to the ASA, speaking out against the boycott, without wading into Israeli-Palestinian politics. The college’s position is focused on wanting engagement and discussion on difficult and divisive issue rather than a more censorship-like approach that a boycott might represent.

“We do not see the value of disengagement at this point. One of the major problems with academic boycotts of any kind is that they are anathema to what universities should be doing in our view. They pose a challenge to the free flow of ideas. And that’s really what colleges and universities need to thrive. The boycott does pose a real problem, because the goal of the boycott is to address what those who sponsored it believe are problems of academic freedom for Palestinians in occupied territories in Israel. And that may be reasonable enough. Palestinians in the occupied territories in Israel are without educational freedoms, quite likely. But we think this method is profoundly misguided, because you can’t compromise free speech in one location in order to achieve it in another,” Newbury explained.

Middlebury College wants the ASA to define its mission, and to take the mission statement to the membership and ask them to vote on a new statement if they want to engage in political activity.