Letter to Chancellor White re. response to ASA resolution
January 6, 2014
Dr. Timothy White
401 Golden Shore
Long Beach CA 90802
Dear Chancellor White,
On behalf of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)*, we are writing to express our strong objection to your statement that “The California State University denounces the resolution calling for an academic boycott of the higher education institutions in Israel, which was issued by the American Studies Association.” http://blogs.calstate.edu/pa/news/?p=3387
The American Studies Association (ASA) is a professional academic organization, which passed this resolution through a majority vote of its members in accordance with its constitutional procedures and guidelines. Furthermore, in all its statements it has affirmed that its resolution respects the academic freedom of individual scholars everywhere. You may personally disagree with the resolution, but questioning the organization’s right to take a position and advocate for it is a different matter. Moreover, making your statement in the name of the CSU is very troubling.
Faculty, scholars, students, or any citizen of a democratic society have the right to advocate for boycott and divestment. This is a first amendment right. Such peaceful advocacy can have a political impact in bringing about change as it did against the apartheid regime of South Africa. This right is being exercised today by academics like those in the ASA, who support boycott and divestment “in objecting to the acts of discrimination, dispossession and denial of academic freedom in which Israeli institutions are complicit through their close collaboration with the state and its oppression of Palestinian society.” http://www.theasa.net/american_studies_association_resolution_on_academic_boycott_of_israel
What is of great concern is that your statement is made in the name of upholding “academic freedom,” when in reality it suppresses the academic freedom of your own faculty. This is especially disturbing given that it is made from an administrative position of power and in the name of the institution you serve. When the administration takes side with respect to a controversial political issue, it has a chilling effect on the students and faculty who have the opposite perspective. Your statement helps create an environment of fear and intimidation for those who are not in a position of power but have a dissenting opinion. This is particularly problematic in this case because it reinforces positions taken by the U.S. government in defending violations of international humanitarian law and other human rights abuses by strategic allies like Israel and denigrating efforts by civil society to challenge such policies. It is disappointing that you find such nonviolent campaigns more problematic than the violation of international legal norms themselves.
Your claim of upholding academic freedom is not only contradictory but is moreover at best misguided and at worst hypocritical. How can you uphold academic freedom by suppressing the free expression of a critical position? Why have you so glaringly ignored the daily violations of Palestinian academic freedom and right to education? Why are you not questioning the systematic and longstanding violations of the freedom of movement and opinion of Palestinian academics, which, to our knowledge, have never evoked comments by you or your colleagues? The answer to these questions is all too evident.
We are all familiar with the pressure that Israeli lobby groups, such as Stand With US, AMCHA, and other local affiliates have exerted on academic institutions over the last decade to intimidate and silence all those who have been critical of Israeli policies of occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. A number of faculty members on your campuses have been direct targets of these attacks. If such pressure groups are lobbying you to take the positions that you have taken, you must stand firm and remember your responsibility to the faculty and students under your care. You must stand firm in support of real academic freedom and first amendment rights on your university campuses. It is not only wrong, but also counterproductive to give in to such interest groups, whether they approach you with political pressure, financial threats, or other means. Appeasing them turns the largest public university system into a vehicle for the political maneuvering of these interest groups, and it encourages such groups to engage in the direct intimidation of faculty and students who have expressed support for the ASA resolution or engaged in criticism of Israel.
We call upon you to condemn Israeli violations of Palestinian rights to education and academic freedom with a level of concern similar to that you have expressed about the alleged violations caused by a boycott of Israeli institutions. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to withdraw your statement of condemnation of ASA and by espousing a neutral stance on the question of boycott and divestment affirm the California State University’s commitment to academic freedom.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Sondra Hale, Professor Emerita
Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies
University of California, Los Angeles
Professor of History
California Polytechnic University, Pomona
Professor of English
University of California Riverside
Professor of Linguistics
Dean, College of Arts and Humanities
California State University Fresno
*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of well over 100 academics who teach in 20 California institutions. The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.
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