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President Maxwell's statement on the American Studies Association's boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education

The following is a statement from Drake University President David Maxwell on the American Studies Association's recent decision to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education:

I wholeheartedly endorse the American Association of University Professors’ strongly worded opposition to the recent vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education. As the AAUP indicates, academic boycotts are antithetical to the fundamental principles of academic freedom. An academic boycott, in essence, impinges on the University’s ability to fulfill its most fundamental scholarly, intellectual, cultural, and societal responsibilities in a civil society. 

Drake University’s Statement of Principles, created by the University’s Faculty Senate 20 years ago, states:

Drake University upholds freedom of thought and freedom of expression as central to its educational mission. Drake therefore carefully refrains from restricting the exchange of ideas or regulating the content of speech. . . We affirm the principle that thoughts and opinions should be subject to the crucible of debate and be judged only in the free marketplace of ideas. Ideas will not be suppressed because they are presently viewed as unpopular or inappropriate by current authorities, nor will expression of those ideas be infringed because it may be perceived as harmful to a particular group or organization. Although the frank and open discussion of social, cultural, artistic, religious, moral, scientific, and political issues may be disturbing and even hurtful for some individuals, the principle of free exchange and inquiry takes precedence, as it is so fundamental to the educational enterprise.

Further, the lessons of recent history (e.g., Soviet-American academic exchanges) suggest that academic engagement—both institutional and individual—as opposed to isolation, is a powerful force in catalyzing and informing significant political and social change. From this perspective, not only is the ASA’s boycott contrary to the fundamental values of the academy, but it has the potential to prolong and exacerbate the very issues that it is intended to address.

Finally, I would suggest that a boycott of this nature inherently undermines the academy’s most powerful tools in effecting change—our thoughts, our ideas, our voices and, ultimately, our relationships. The complex global web of intellectual relationships that we have collectively created is one of our most powerful assets in fulfilling our respective missions as institutions of higher education; to sever a portion of those relationships for political reasons is ultimately self-destructive. 

David Maxwell
Drake University
January 2, 2014

University News