An Asian-American Studies Professor Responds
David Palumbo-Liu rebuts a recent essay criticizing his discipline's embrace of a boycott of Israeli scholars and institutions.
To Jonathan Marks:
As your “open letter" last week about a proposed boycott of Israel addresses "professors of Asian-American studies," and since I am one, I feel entitled to reply to you in kind. I thank the editors of Inside Higher Ed for the opportunity.
Let me first say that my reply has nothing to do with the merits of either the resolution or your position. It has rather to do with your tactic and the presumptions upon which your open letter operates. I feel somewhat passionate about this because Asian-American studies is a field with which I have been long associated and for which I have immense respect.
I'll make this brief. So, all those who attended the Association for Asian American Studies in Seattle happened to, without public debate, vote in favor of a resolution. So what? Can't people unanimously feel passionate and committed to one point of view? If it were a resolution in favor of stricter background checks for gun purchases would you be as moralistic and publicly so?
Instead, you trot out some cherry-picked quotes from some leftists and chastise us for not taking these into account, calling into question our thoughtfulness and indeed personal ethics. But how do you know that many if not all of us did not in fact, on our own, or with friends, families, colleagues, conscientiously think through our positions? We were alerted well in advance of the resolution, after all, and we are, after all, academics, so maybe we did our homework.
I am sorry you are dismayed at the result, but your inference does not work.
But more importantly, I really do not see why you chose to use a mainstream journal of the academy to launch your public chastisement and browbeating.
Oh, I think I do. Your "position" lost so you decided not only to use Inside Higher Ed to offer it to a wider and assumedly more sympathetic audience, you also used the opportunity it afforded to lambaste an entire organization for reputed past sins of a similar nature.
Your letter moves out from a critique of a single vote to a broad indictment of many fine scholars and teachers, indeed all of those in the field, impugning their moral character simply because their judgment did not coincide with your own. Surely we can all stand to learn from one another, but your mode of persuasion is, to my mind, entirely counterproductive.
Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor
Professor of Comparative Literature and, by courtesy, English
Director of Asian American Studies
David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University.
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