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December 11, 2013

Former ASA Presidents Speak Out

As David Bernstein has reported on this site, the American Studies Association's National Council voted last month to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. At the same time the Council put the resolution to a vote of the membership, which is being conducted online and concludes on December 11.

Eight former presidents of the American Studies Association have written a letter urging members to reject the boycott, not only because it violates academic freedom but also because it is an "inequitable and discriminatory policy that would punish one nation's universities and scholars." Moreover academic boycotts shut down conversation with those with whom one disagrees, thereby undermining "the mission of free and open inquiry for which a scholarly organization stands." Our task, the presidents write, "is to open conversation, not close it off."

As if to prove themselves cartoon villains in this matter, the National Council has "refused to circulate or post to the ASA's website alternative perspectives." Consequently, the "membership vote is being undertaken with only one side of a complex question presented." The National Council sees its task as to close off conversation, not to open it.

One can only imagine the deep contempt for democracy and for their colleagues that has led the National Council to turn down a simple request from eight former presidents to let their arguments be heard by the membership. If the resolution should pass, the disgraceful story of how the National Council got it passed should be told and retold. As the presidents say, this "can only damage the ASA."

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