In December the American Studies Association joined the Association for Asian American Studies in calling for a boycott of academic and intellectual exchanges with Israeli colleges, universities, and individual faculty in protest of that country’s treatment of the Palestinians. Since the ASA’s resolution, scores of college and university presidents and the American Association of University Professors have proclaimed that this action is a violation of academic freedom.
The ASA resolution is a serious misstep toward achieving both peace and prosperity in the Middle East and reinforces greater barriers to knowledge and understanding across cultures. Awareness and appreciation of cultures in the Middle East (including traditions, languages, arts, religions, ethnicities, philosophies, economics, and politics) are precisely what we need.
In 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the National Defense Education Act. He did so in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the first earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik, the previous October. At that time, the United States was woefully short of mathematicians and other scientists, and computer technology was beginning its meteoric rise. The NDEA provided funding to support and educate a new generation of engineers.
However, President Eisenhower’s action also recognized an enduring truth. When peoples of differing cultures live, work, and study together, they begin to understand that “difference” does not necessarily mean “wrong” or “bad.” Rather, they begin to recognize the human similarities across and among cultures. Under Title VI of the NDEA, international studies centers, foreign language and area studies fellowships, graduate and undergraduate international and intercultural studies programs, and citizen education for cultural understandings were funded. These programs focused largely on countries within the Soviet Bloc and have been credited as playing a significant role in promoting positive solutions and intercultural advancement in Eastern Europe. We need a similar initiative for the Middle East.
A dozen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the horrific war in Syria, and the ongoing issues between Israel and neighboring regions have shaped our perceptions of the area's peoples and politics, whether accurate or not. I suspect many, if not most, are not accurate. Sadly, public perceptions foster the foreign policy that guides our relations with Middle Eastern countries.
Just as we need to know the peoples of the Middle East better, they need to know us better as well. International educational exchange between faculty and students is a proven strategy for accomplishing that goal. We should build ties, not cut them off, with Israeli universities, with Palestinian universities and with institutions throughout the region. That is why the ASA’s boycott is exactly the wrong action at the wrong time.
Devorah Lieberman is president of the University of La Verne.
Colorado State University at Pueblo is being criticized not only by faculty leaders on its own campus, but by advocates for free speech nationally over its removal of the email account of a professor who has criticized budget cuts at the university. The university removed the email account of Timothy McGettigan, a professor of sociology, after he sent out an email to students and faculty members in which he urged them to fight the cuts. His subject line was "Children of Ludlow," referring to a 1914 massacre of striking coal miners in southern Colorado. McGettigan compared the way the central system administration was treating Pueblo to the bloody way coal mine owners treated their workers 100 years ago. Although McGettigan used that violent incident as a metaphor for the way the university administrators were treating the campus, and did not call for violence, university officials invoked Columbine and Virginia Tech to justify the need to act and remove his email account.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on Tuesday sent a letter to Pueblo Monday in which it said there was no justification for removing the email account. "FIRE is deeply concerned by the threat to freedom of expression at Colorado State University–Pueblo (CSU-Pueblo) in light of the university’s deactivation of professor Tim McGettigan’s email account after he sent an email to students and faculty criticizing the university system’s leadership," the letter from FIRE said. "By declaring McGettigan’s email a violation of university policy and labeling him a threat to campus security, CSU - Pueblo has gravely violated his rights and deeply chilled expression."
The board of the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement that said in part: "The American Association of University Professors Colorado Conference emphatically rejects Colorado State University-Pueblo President Lesley Di Mare’s reckless and damaging conflation of legitimate faculty criticism of proposed mission-compromising cuts to faculty and staff at CSU-Pueblo with the brutal and mindless slaughter of innocents at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Arapahoe High School. While any university president is obligated to insure the physical safety of their university community, associating peaceful and legitimate dissent with the violent intentions of deranged gunmen is the very height of absurdity and reveals an appalling lack of professional judgment in a university president."
A survey of senior academic affairs officers in higher education has found that 84 percent of their institutions have common learning goals for students, up from 74 percent four years ago. This suggests that measuring student learning is now "the norm," says a report on the results from the National Institute for Learning Outcome Assessment. The study also found that the "prime driver" for assessment efforts is unchanged from the last survey: pressure from regional and specialized accreditation agencies.
Faculty members are raising questions about the value of a consultant -- hired for $1.1 million, primarily with no-bid contracts -- at the University of Louisville, The Courier-Journal reported. University administrators say that they are finding ways to save money, and that only some preliminary recommendations have been released. But professors say that the analyses that have been released seem obvious and not worth the money. Some of their examples come in reports stating that the university's “greatest strength is the quality of our people” and that the university “must be globally engaged to be a leading institution of the 21st century.”
Colorado State-Pueblo professor who is outspoken critic of budget cuts sent out an email comparing them to a century-old massacre. Hours later, university took away his campus account. UPDATE: University president cites Virginia Tech and Columbine.