American Studies program ceases affiliation with American Studies Association
The American Studies program discontinued its institutional affiliation with the American Studies Association in response to the association's recent vote in favor of an academic boycott of Israel. The program released a statement on Dec. 18 announcing the decision, two days after the association announced the boycott. Brandeis' program was the second to decide to cancel its institutional membership.
"We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster," the statement reads. "We remain committed to the discipline of American Studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture-freedom of association and expression."
According to the association's website, it is one of several academic associations that were asked to participate in the boycott of Israeli academic institutions as a part of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign. "Israeli academic institutions function as a central part of a system that has denied Palestinians their basic rights," the American Studies Association's website reads. "Palestinian students face ongoing discrimination, including the suppression of Palestinian cultural events, and there is sanctioning and ongoing surveillance of Palestinian students and faculty who protest Israeli policies."
The ASA also condemned the United States' role in "aiding and abetting Israel's violations of human rights against Palestinians and its occupation of Palestinian lands through its use of the veto in the UN Security Council."
The boycott targets institutions and their representatives, and will prevent participation in conferences or events officially sponsored by Israeli universities. The ASA claimed on its website that the boycott will not interfere with individual scholars or students, but acknowledged that it would be a civil offense for Israeli academics to support the boycott. The boycott was approved by its membership in an online vote, according to Prof. Thomas Doherty (AMST), who is the program chair, in an email to the Justice. According to the association's website, 1,252 of almost 5,000 members voted. The website states that this number is "the largest number of participants in the organization's history."
According to the association's website, 66.05 percent of voters endorsed the resolution, while 30.5 percent of voters voted no and 3.43 percent abstained. The website states that the election was a response to the ASA National Council's announcement on Dec. 4 that it supported the academic boycott.
Doherty wrote that the resolution was put forth at the association's annual meeting in November. Although Doherty wrote that he did not receive an email reminding members to vote, "[i]ronically, a postcard arrived today [Dec. 16] from the ASA urging me to vote 'by Dec. 15.'"
According Doherty, the decision to cancel the program's affiliation with the association "was pretty much a spontaneous consensus among our faculty-we had been tracking developments since the [November] meeting and had talked about what to do." Doherty added that there were no dissents, and that the program's move was made independently, with no input or pressure from the administration.
After the program ceased its affiliation with the association, University President Frederick Lawrence released a statement condemning the association's resolution. The Dec. 24 statement read, "I find disturbing the uniqueness of the target of the ASA decision, with Israel representing the only nation on the planet whose universities are thereby stigmatized. The boycott even defies common sense; what Israeli universities can do that would end the policies that the ASA has condemned is hard to imagine."
Lawrence wrote that he was proud that Brandeis was one of the first institutions in the world to withdraw as an institutional member of the ASA, and urged others to follow Brandeis' lead.
"Brandeis University values its many relationships with Israeli academic institutions. We will not allow the ASA's action to undermine those relationships or the principle of academic freedom," the statement continued.
Other universities, such as Harvard University, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Yale University, have openly condemned the association's resolution. Harvard University President Drew Faust's statement on the matter asserts that "[a]cademic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars."
Although Brandeis' program ended its affiliation with the association, faculty members decided to leave the association individually prior to the release of the department's statement. Doherty wrote that he is leaving the association after about 30 years. "I am sad that an organization I have been a part of for so long has decided to politicize itself in this way," he wrote.
Prof. Joyce Antler (AMST) agreed that such academic associations should not engage in systematic academic boycotts. "I agree with the [American Association of University Professors] that on specific issues, other forms of protest may be appropriate, even for non-partisan academic associations, if they promote the free exchange of ideas rather then stifle academic freedom," wrote Antler, who also stated that she would be resigning from the association before the program released its statement. "The resolution is noxious, deeply harming the principle of academic freedom and dangerously scapegoating Israel."
Doherty also questioned the association's actions, stating that the "outrage is highly selective."
"[L]et's just say that it is interesting they're going after Israel-and not, say, China or the Arab states," Doherty wrote.
According to Antler, over 70 "eminent" ASA scholars, including eight former presidents, opposed the resolution before the vote, but the ASA's National Council refused to share the countering statements with ASA members.
Despite disagreement among scholars, the association released a statement on Monday emphasizing the fact that the members did vote for the association to take such an action. "The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians," the statement read.
Brandeis' American Studies program was the second to announce that it would discontinue its affiliation with the association after Pennsylvania State Harrisburg. Kenyon College and Indiana University followed suit and cancelled their institutional memberships, as well, according to a Dec. 23 Tablet article.
Editor's Note: American Studies is a program at Brandeis, not a department, as originally stated.