Letter to UCLA Chancellor Block re AAA boycott vote
20 May 2016
Gene Block, Chancellor
University of California Los Angeles
Dear Chancellor Block,
We members of the UCLA faculty write to express our strong disapproval of the University of California administration’s letter to the American Anthropological Association regarding an ongoing vote of the AAA’s membership on whether to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. This letter, which states that “the University of California believes that an academic boycott is an inappropriate response to a foreign policy issue (our italics),” represents blatant interference in the academic freedom of UC’s faculty (who were not consulted) and is, to our knowledge, unprecedented.
The letter, dated April 19, 2016, is signed by President Janet Napolitano and all ten UC Chancellors. Your own role in this letter, however, is much more than that of a signatory. According to an article published April 26, 2016 in the popular Israeli YNET news.com, you yourself instigated the letter after being contacted by a consortium of Israeli university presidents
We consider your letter a breach of the principles of faculty governance. The faculty has a fundamental right to guide academic policy and standards, including our right to determine freely our association with other scholars and institutions. Moreover, since it was issued during the ongoing process of the vote with the imprimatur of administrative authority, your letter can only be regarded as an attempt to influence and even intimidate faculty on our campus and to deter them from voting for this resolution.
It is in no way appropriate for university presidents and chancellors to seek to unduly influence positions to be taken by academic associations, nor to interfere in the voting procedures of professional scholarly associations. The AAA has engaged in a three-year democratic process in coming to this vote, including a major Association Task Force investigation and report.
Furthermore, the vote is taking place in accordance with the Association’s bylaws and procedures. You should not be acting to chill or to influence this vote, the AAA process, and the voices of the AAA membership.
Your letter asserts that not only is an academic boycott “inappropriate” but that it “threatens academic freedom.” Although the boycott resolution targets only institutions and not individuals, you incorrectly imply that “free expression, robust discourse and vigorous debate over ideas and principles” would be restricted. We hope that your willingness to defend “our scholars’ ability to choose their research and colleagues” will stay strong where it is truly needed: that is, in defense of the principles of the AAUP, which, we note, uses a version of “academic boycott” (i.e. the censure list) as a tool to enforce academic freedom. Your executive interference with the deliberations of an academic professional association is perceived by many as coercive and counterproductive. We respectfully request that in future you honor the principles of shared governance and at the very least, consult with the Academic Senate and the UCLA Faculty Association before taking positions that cast a decided chill on the academic freedom you purport to hold so dear.
Katherine King, Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and Classics
Carole Browner, Research Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies
Sondra Hale, Research Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies
And 16 additional signatories
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