AAUP Conference on Academic Freedom and Boycotts Postponed

From the early 1960s, scholars in apartheid South Africa were subjected to various forms of boycott within the international academic community. (SASPU National)


Academics and researchers invited to participate in the conference on academic freedom and academic boycotts organized by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) condemn tactics used by critics of the conference to cast doubt on the integrity of the organizers and some of the participants, and to ultimately derail it. On February 9, the AAUP decided to postpone its conference. Joan Scott, former chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and one of the key organizers of this conference, said the postponement was due to “a carefully orchestrated campaign to abort the conference by groups which believe that any representation of a point of view other than theirs is anathema”. The decision to postpone the conference was made shortly after the AAUP released a statement in which the AAUP stated that it firmly believed that the conference should proceed as scheduled. The February 13-17 conference in Bellagio (Italy) was supposed to stir debate between those who support and those who oppose academic boycotts. In its statement the AAUP reaffirmed its opposition to academic boycotts.

STATEMENT BY PARTICIPANTS IN THE CONFERENCE ON ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND ACADEMIC BOYCOTTS ON AAUP POSTPONEMENT

We the undersigned, academics and researchers invited to participate in the conference on academic freedom and academic boycotts organized by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), wish to register our condemnation of the tactics used by critics of the conference to cast doubt on the integrity of the organizers and some of the participants, and to ultimately derail it.

In the words of Joan Scott, former chair of the AAUP’s Committee on Academic Freedom and one of the key organizers of this conference, the postponement was due to “a carefully orchestrated campaign to abort the conference by groups which believe that any representation of a point of view other than theirs is anathema; indeed they claim that academic freedom is the freedom to listen only to those who agree with them.”(1) There is sufficient evidence to suggest that this campaign, organized by American, British, and Israeli academics and organizations, questioned the very idea of the conference and found the participation of some of the invitees objectionable.2

We think that the AAUP meeting, which was to be held in Italy this month, was carefully conceived and organized to provide an open platform for a genuine, respectful and scholarly debate between conflicting viewpoints on the issue of academic boycott and its bearing on the principle of academic freedom. A clear majority of the invitees and organizers was against boycott, for various reasons. While some of us perceive academic boycott as a morally sound, non-violent form of resistance to injustice and others view it — in principle — as an infringement of academic freedom, we collectively converge on the indispensable role and value this debate would have had in promoting a deeper understanding — on all sides — of the issues at hand. Those who lack the power of logic to pursue this debate resort to the logic of power; and only those who are unable to rationally argue their views adopt the tactics of bullying and intimidation instead.

Furthermore, we are surprised and deeply disappointed by the retreat of this project’s funders. Bowing to pressure from highly partisan political lobbies, they have abetted the suppression of academic freedom by wavering in their support for the convening of an academic meeting that is undoubtedly intended to promote dialogue and debate.

We remain committed to the universal application of academic freedom and the obligations that come with it, particularly “the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination.”3

Signatories: (as of 12 February 2006): Hilary Rose Emerita Professor of Social Policy University of Bradford, UK; Salim Vally Senior Researcher, Education Policy Unit, School of Education University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Rema Hammami Assistant Professor of Anthropology Birzeit University, Palestine; Sondra Hale Professor of Anthropology and Women s Studies University of California, Los Angeles, USA; Ur Shlonsky Professor of Linguistics University of Geneva, Switzerland; Lisa Taraki Associate Professor of Sociology Birzeit University, Palestine; Shireen Hassim Associate Professor, Political Studies University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Omar Barghouti Independent Researcher Palestine; Anat Biletzki Associate Professor of Philosophy Tel Aviv University, Israel; Jonathan Hyslop Professor and Deputy Director, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Endnotes

[1] Joan Scott expressed her view in a comment to an article in Inside Higher Education (9 February 2006)

[2] Tamara Traubmann, U.S. Jews block conference set to include anti-Israel professors; and comment from Edward Beck, Ha’aretz (10 February 2006). It is also clear that the AAUP’s inadvertent inclusion of an offensive article in the background readings for the conference was not a crucial factor in the postponement of the conference. Despite the fact that the AAUP immediately apologized to the participants and requested that they cross the article off from the list, the blunder was manipulated by the lobby, triggering the decision to postpone the conference.

[3] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, The Right to Education (8 December 1999)

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