Judith Butler, a noted literary theorist who is the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Visiting Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, has called off a talk she was supposed to give at the Jewish Museum in New York City, amid criticism of her support for the boycott of Israel. Butler's talk was not to have been about her views on the Middle East, but on Franz Kafka, who died well before the State of Israel was created. A statement from the museum said: "She was chosen on the basis of her expertise on the subject matter to be discussed. While her political views were not a factor in her participation, the debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended."
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Butler said: "I did decide to withdraw when it became clear to me that the uproar over my political views (actually, a serious distortion of my political views) would overtake the days ahead and the event itself. As I understand it, the Jewish Museum also felt that it could not handle the political storm, and we were in complete agreement that the event should be canceled as a result."
She continued: "What is most important now, in my view, is for both educational and cultural institutions such as these to recommit themselves to open debate, not to become vehicles for censorship and slander, and not to become party to forms of blacklisting. It certainly should not be the case that any of us are forced to give up speaking in public on scholarly topics that have no bearing on the political issues that are so controversial. It constitutes discrimination against a person on the basis of political viewpoint, implying that the speaker ought not to be allowed to speak on any topic given the political viewpoint in question. It is one thing to disagree, say, with my political viewpoint and to give reasons why one disagrees, even to call for an open debate on that disagreement, and to ask the Jewish Museum to exercise its authority and commit its resources to such an open debate. It is quite another to say that anyone with my political viewpoint (itself badly distorted in this case) should not be able to speak at a Jewish cultural organization.... Whether one is for or against [the boycott movement], it seems important to recognize that boycotts are constitutionally recognized forms of political expression, affirmed by international law as well. That means that one cannot exactly outlaw a boycott, even if one opposes it with great vehemence, without trampling on a constitutionally protected right. We are seeing several efforts now to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and so cultural institutions like the Jewish Museum will now have to decide whether they will allow their choices of speakers and artworks to be coerced, whether they will have the courage and the principle to stand for freedom of expression, refusing to impose a political litmus speakers on speakers and artists who have every reason to be part of the broader community they serve and have ideas on many other topics to share."
The Vassar Jewish Union has become the second Hillel affiliate, after the chapter at Swarthmore College, to declare itself an "Open Hillel" and resolve that it will not abide by a ban on anti-Israel speakers imposed by its parent organization. Hillel International guidelines prohibit campus chapters from partnering with or hosting groups or speakers that seek to delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel, or that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but in a statement the Vassar Jewish Union said the policy “censors and delegitimizes the diverse range of personal and political opinions held by Jewish students."
“We believe that Hillel International’s goal to ‘inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel’ does not represent the diverse opinions of young American Jews,” the statement says, in part. “We believe that fostering a pluralistic community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be achieved with Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines in place."
The president of Hillel International, Eric Fingerhut, told The Jewish Daily Forward that the organization’s expectation is that Hillel affiliates will continue to uphold the group’s standards for partners and co-sponsors.
Swiss President Didier Burkhalter this week warned that his country's scientists and university students could be hurt because of the national vote that narrowly approved immigration restrictions, Europe Online reported. The referendum breaks with Swiss consistency with some of the free flow of people provided in the European union. Burkhalter said that he was concerned that his efforts to have Switzerland join EU science funding and student exchange programs will be halted.
GRE volume was up about 5 percent in the United States in 2013, and by larger percentages in some other countries. Among all countries outside the United States, GRE test-taking was up 30 percent, and the figure was up 70 percent in India, the Educational Testing Service announced.
The presidents of Israel's universities have issued a joint letter to the presidents of American colleges and universities that have opposed the boycott of Israeli universities endorsed by the American Studies Association and others. "We do not take for granted the solidarity and support of the heads of the leading, most important universities in the United States and throughout the entire academic world," the letter says. "We both thank you for your courage and for your steadfast adherence to the principles of free and independent scientific thought."
Britain's home office has suspended the administration of English language tests run by the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service after the BBC news program, "Panorama," uncovered “systematic fraud” at British test centers. As summarized in this BBC article, Panorama recorded instances of Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) examinees being replaced by “fake-sitters” who completed the test for them, and of a proctor reading the correct answers aloud to test takers. The news program followed a network of agents who help bogus students from outside the European Union pass the TOEIC, a government-approved English test for immigration purposes, and otherwise obtain student visa extensions fraudulently.
Thomas A. Ewing, an ETS spokesman, told Inside Higher Ed via email that the issues seem to involve two TOEIC testing centers and that the government’s suspension of TOEIC and Test of English as a Foreign Language exams within the U.K. will not affect test-takers elsewhere in the world. “When testing on a global basis, no test provider can claim 100 percent prevention or detection of fraudulent activity, but ETS does everything it can to detect and prevent rare instances of dishonest test administrators or test takers,” an ETS statement read, in part.