Princeton educators speak out against the call for an academic boycott of Israel

Princeton voices were prominent as American universities spoke out against the American Studies Association’s December call for an academic boycott of Israel to protest the country’s treatment of Palestinians.

“Scholarly engagement sustains learning and helps to build liberal democratic values,” President Eisgruber ’83 said in a statement. “American universities should continue to work constructively with scholars and institutions throughout the world, regardless of whether we admire or dislike the governments under which they operate.” He said his personal support for academic engagement with Israel is “enthusiastic and unequivocal.”

As of mid-January, the presidents of more than 175 colleges and universities had rejected the call for a boycott by the association, described as the nation’s largest group devoted to the study of American culture and history. In May the Association for Asian American Studies had approved a similar resolution.

Hunter R. Rawlings III *70, president of the Association of American Universities, was among those signing a statement by the group’s executive committee that the boycott violated academic freedom. He said his group was concerned that scholarly groups increasingly were calling for boycotts.

“It is dangerous business, and basically unwise, for institutions to become embroiled in these kinds of debates,” former Princeton president William G. Bowen *58 told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “The consequences for institutions are just too serious.”

While voicing dismay over the ASA’s action, Eisgruber said he would not “make it unwelcome on campus or inhibit the ability of faculty members to affiliate with it.” He said he hoped that eventually the group’s members would bring it “to its senses.”