April 20, 2016

ACADEMICS AGAINST ACADEMIC FREEDOM: Members of the American Anthropological Association are in the process of voting on a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Richard A. Shweder of the University of Chicago says many of his colleagues are appalled:

They view the call to avoid contact with Israeli academic institutions as an outrageous violation of academic freedom norms, including the principle that participation in the world-wide academy is open to all regardless of nationality, race or creed. They believe the voting process itself is corrosive of academic values, that a professional scholarly association does not need a foreign policy for the Holy Land or anywhere else and should be committed to free thought and disciplined inquiry, not collective political action. When it comes to contestable political and social issues they do not cede authority to the AAA to make corporate declarations about what is right-minded and true. They prefer to speak for themselves, especially since the AAA is not a homogeneous political bloc. It is a disputatious community of scholars who differ in their causal analyses, assignments of blame, and proposed solutions to any political conflict. Collective political branding is viewed by many boycott opponents as an act of institutional violence committed against the intellectual autonomy of those members of the guild who disagree with the proposed party line. They believe that institutional neutrality on hot button social and political issues enables free thought.

Many opponents of the resolution experience its injunctions as distressingly reminiscent of the Nuremberg laws, when citizenship rights for Jews were degraded in Germany and there was a national boycott against shopping at Jewish stores. If the proposal to shun and stigmatize Israeli academic institutions becomes official policy they, like the Jews of Germany in the 1930s, will not feel at home in their own society. Some will resign from the AAA, pack up and leave. Some already have. Others will just resign themselves to melancholy reflection on the late great discipline of cultural anthropology, recalling how their profession first gave up on positive science and then exchanged its humanistic soul for the soft porn of partisan identity politics.

Read the whole thing. And consider  a couple of other questions: If the AAA votes for the boycott, can it still allow sponsorship at its events from companies that publish Israeli scholars — assuming any publishers still want to spend any money on a group that’s hostile to academic freedom? And should universities keep paying the AAA dues and convention expenses of their professors? Obviously professors are free to join any group they want, but there’s no reason for a university to subsidize professors’ political activism, especially when it involves a group that has abandoned the norms of scholarship.

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