By Kindred Winecoff
I speak for none of the Jilted other than myself but I wanted to pass along this open letter, addressed to various legislative bodies in the U.S. who are trying to politicize universities in what I think is an unproductive way. Or, to quote from the letter:
Academics and commentators—including Crooked Timber bloggers—disagree over the American Studies Association’s decision to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. There should be far less disagreement over two bills recently proposed in New York’s and Maryland’s state legislatures. These bills prohibit colleges and universities from using state monies to fund faculty membership in—or travel to—academic organizations that boycott the institutions of another country. Designed to punish the ASA for taking the stance it has, these bills threaten the ability of scholars and scholarly associations to say controversial things in public debate. Because they sanction some speech on the basis of the content of that speech, they run afoul of the US First Amendment.
Read the whole thing and consider signing it if you agree. I did, and so have an impressive list of academics, media figures, and concerned citizens from all over the political spectrum. Here is why.
I disagree completely with the ASA’s boycott, as does one of the writers of the letter, and I argued with Corey Robin (the other writer, who supports the ASA) over this topic on Twitter. As it happens, the university that employs me withdrew its institutional membership with the ASA over this question; while I probably would not have gone so far I appreciate the reasons it did so and am not offended by them. I disagree with the BDS movement on both philosophical and pragmatic grounds.
But I oppose cynical legislative meddling into institutions of higher education even more. Universities and colleges are quite good at self-policing while remaining inclusive and moderate; we don’t need politicians picking and choosing which groups are above board and which are not. Moreover, the ASA’s “boycott” was so toothless as to be inconsequential; holding education funding hostage for petty politicking could obviously be quite consequential.