Open Letter Against SSSP Academic Boycott Resolution


The Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF), a multidisciplinary faculty organization that opposes academic boycotts and supports a two-state solution that would facilitate political self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians, is concerned that the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) is scheduled to vote this month on a resolution calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions [Resolution #4, on BDS]. Along with the American Association of University Professors and hundreds of university presidents, we believe academic boycotts do fundamental violence to academic freedom and undermine the core values that undergird the academy. We have drafted this letter to remind SSSP members of the key issues that are at stake so that they may be kept in the forefront when the resolution is debated.

When the AAUP wrote its 1915 Declaration defining the central principles of higher education, it emphasized the need for open, unfettered communication of ideas, questions, opinion, and research results among faculty members worldwide. The social purpose of the academic freedom granted to individual faculty was to protect the sort of international intellectual exchange basic to the search for the truth. When the organization adopted a formal position opposing academic boycotts in 2006, it made it clear that political litmus tests for either nation states or individual faculty members should not impede the exchange of ideas. The same principle applies to students’ rights to participate in study abroad programs or study at foreign universities.

University and faculty association votes to support a boycott of Israeli universities have already generated serious assaults on students and faculty and curtailed their personal academic freedom. The claim that only institutions are affected has been repeatedly shown to be false. Academic boycotts furthermore threaten international research collaborations, such as those established between US and Israeli universities and those between individual faculty or research groups across the world.

While many academics both here and in Israel object to their governments’ policies and actions, we do not expect academic institutions to take such political positions. We expect institutions to remain neutral, so as not to chill the free expression of opinion by individuals and groups on campus. That free expression includes the right to support or oppose academic boycotts.

While resolutions proposing academic boycotts often include factual claims that are either false or debatable, annual academic meetings are not a good place to adjudicate such matters reliably or with the thoroughness that professionalism would require.

Academic associations, moreover, do not typically include articulating a foreign policy with their mission statements and mandate. They are ill served by political actions outside their academic missions.

AAF EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE: Susana Cavaillo, David Greenberg, Rebecca Lesses, Jeffry Mallow, Sharon Musher, Cary Nelson (Chair), Kenneth Stern