On Academic Freedom

Recently, several disciplinary scholarly associations, including the American Studies Association (ASA), have called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, arguing that those institutions are complicit in Israel’s violation of the human rights of Palestinians. I have heard from a number of Wellesley alumnae and others about the ASA’s decision, and about the response from many American colleges and universities who have rejected that stance.

More than 150 college presidents have issued statements rejecting the boycott. In addition, a few presidents have withdrawn or threatened to withdraw their American Studies Association memberships. Many political and pressure groups have started email campaigns for and against the boycott.

As I explained in 2007, when I signed a petition as one of 400 presidents opposing a similar boycott at that time, boycotts of academic institutions by other academic institutions are fundamentally at odds with academic freedom. I rejected the boycott of Israeli scholars in 2007; I reject the similar boycott today. On the first of the year, I placed a statement to that effect on my President’s Page on the Wellesley website and added Wellesley to the list of academic institutions rejecting the boycott.

I firmly believe that presidents of colleges and universities should not take political stances, given that we are the public representatives of diverse intellectual communities that contain members with a wide variety of political and ideological views.

I have taken a stand on this issue because the boycott attacks the core of the academy—it violates our fundamental principles. My response, therefore, is made on moral and ethical grounds, not on political grounds.