December 28, 2013

Statement on American Studies Association Boycott

President Alison Byerly sent the following email today:

To the College Community:

Over the last ten days a number of college and university presidents have released statements regarding the American Studies Association’s recently announced boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. Some members of the Lafayette community have asked where we stand on this issue.

Our mission statement begins, “In an environment that fosters the free exchange of ideas, Lafayette College seeks to nurture the inquiring mind.” I am proud that the principle of academic freedom is central to our institutional ethos.  I believe that any form of academic boycott is contrary to that ethos. An economic boycott expresses opposition by withholding financial support. Such boycotts can be effective by putting a price tag on important values. Restraining the free exchange of ideas, however, and treating intellectual discourse as a commodity, cheapens the value of those ideas.

Lafayette’s distinctive combination of liberal arts and engineering demands that students master the intellectual challenges of open-ended inquiry, as well as the concrete skills of complex problem-solving.  We would not be modeling those qualities very effectively if we supported  a strategy of cutting off dialogue about difficult issues. The world’s problems will not be solved that way.

I do not know if any Lafayette faculty supported the ASA boycott, and I do not intend to ask. Academic freedom means that individual faculty are entitled to hold their own views.  I hope that many members of the community will feel, however, that the personal perspective I have expressed here is consistent with the spirit of Lafayette College, and its commitment to promoting the free exchange of ideas across all differences and boundaries.

With best wishes for the New Year,
Alison Byerly

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  1. Like Deborah A. DeRose, I am disappointed in Dr. Byerly’s statement regarding the ASA’s recent boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Her lukewarm opposition to placing constraints on academic inquiry, knowledge, and ideas can only be a detriment to the College, its constituents, and its standing in the academic community. You can do better, Lafayette.

    says Jane E. Herman
    January 11, 2014 at 5:15 pm
  2. Thank you for your support. Following my graduation, I kibbutz-volunteered beginning in September. The Yom Kippur War began a month later and I remained – using my ‘Pard engineering to maintain our factory by day and the marching band/woodwind quintet-developed musicianship to entertain front-line and hospital-bound soldiers at night. My cousins emigrated to Jerusalem. Your support contributes to their safety.

    says R '73
    January 8, 2014 at 8:56 am
  3. Dear President Byerly,
    I am disappointed in your equivocal, easily mis-read statement regarding ASA boycott of Israel academics. To couple your opposition of academic boycott with your support of economic boycotts weakens your opposition to academic boycotts and provides for misunderstanding if quickly read.
    Your statement that you do not know and will not ask if Lafayette faculty are involved, brings to mind the “don’t ask; don’t tell” government policy on gays in the military. It’s a weak, disappointing position. To say you support faculty freedom of choice, even if you disagree with their choice is a stronger way to express this.

    I have read many University statements regarding this proposed boycott. Below are some pertinent comments by Lafayette former President Dan Weiss and Lehigh. I am also sending you a link so you can read multiple other university statements: comments.

    President Byerly, I praise you for supporting academic freedom but respectfully request that you strengthen your statement. Lafayette’s former President Dan Weiss had a clear, insightful statement in an article in “Educators’ boycott of Israel provokes backlash” By Susan Snyder, Inquirer Staff Writer POSTED: December 28, 2013

    “We think it’s paradoxical that they’re proposing an action to advance freedom by restricting academic freedom,” said Daniel H. Weiss, president of Haverford.
    A boycott, he said, could affect a college’s ability to interact with faculty from Israel, engage in joint research, or send students there.
    “It seems so intellectually clumsy and shortsighted that it’s hard to understand what actually they were thinking,” Weiss said. And if a boycott on Israel is approved, he said, “why not North Korea? What about countries that engage in other types of civil rights violations? In the end, the question is, what would this accomplish?” . . .

    Also, from the article “Lehigh called on its faculty to oppose the measure within the association and advocate for a change.”

    Lehigh’s statement is below: FYI,believe that Lehigh’s statement is a master of clarity and assertion of a strong position on this boycott, while respecting faculty choice. [and I hate to say that Lehigh does anything better than Lafayette!]

    “Lehigh University strongly opposes the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and we are disappointed that a portion of the ASA’s membership chose to take this action. We also believe that one cannot effectively impact a boycott by the ASA with a boycott of the ASA. It would be more productive for our faculty members who belong to that organization to express their displeasure to the leadership, and advocate for a change in policy. We will call upon our faculty to make their opinions known to the ASA. This would apply as well to any academic organization that might vote to adopt the same position as the ASA.
    The boycott of an academic community is antithetical to the mission of academia. The essence of the academic enterprise is to advance the exchange of knowledge and ideas. This mission necessarily calls us to be open and receptive to intellectual discourse with others. There is no room in the pursuit of this mission for the isolation of any group of academics. A boycott of any group is harmful to all. International collaboration and exchange have never been more important than they are today. Through collaboration across disciplines – and across borders – we will continue to live up to our responsibilities to our nation and our world.”

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Deborah A. DeRose
    Lafayette parent of Douglas Prusoff, American Studies, 2012

    says Deborah A. DeRose
    January 1, 2014 at 2:26 pm
  4. […] Lafayette College […]


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