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Academic Boycotters Target the United States


Edward Kunz, Brandeis Blog

February 13, 2017
 

In an effort to condemn the actions taken by President Trump, some academics are now advocating a boycott against the U.S. similar as those attempted against Israel. Recent proposals to adopt sanctions and boycott measures against Israel have been mired in controversy and failure. The Modern Language Association (MLA) recently defeated a proposal for a boycott against Israel, as did the American Anthropological Association (AAA.) The failure of the proposed AAA boycott resolution has been credited, in part, to actions taken by the Brandeis Center and a team of litigators in pursuing legal action against the American Studies Association (ASA). Anti-American academics, incensed by President Trumps immigration policies, are now attempting to redirect such efforts against the United States.

The proposed boycott will take the form of a refusal to “attend international academic conferences held in the United States.” A petition entitled “In Solidarity with People Affected by the Muslim Ban” has been circulated among academics which asserts that academics must “question the intellectual integrity of these spaces and the dialogues they are designed to encourage while Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded from them.”  Helen McCarthy, writing for The Guardian, states that the boycott is a move taken purely in solidarity with Muslim academics now barred from U.S. conferences. McCarthy relates the feelings of one of the pledged academics: “How can free and open academic enquiry [sic] take place when one section of humanity is barred from participation?” The petition has garnered over 3,000 signatures, each of which constitutes a pledge to abstain from forthcoming conferences.

Some scholars have put forward concerns that this boycott may stifle academic discussion within the United States. Speaking with Legal Insurrection, scientist Max Berger stated that “any place that restricts the travel of [academics] to present their work is a problem.” These criticisms of the boycott have largely centered upon the shutting down of academic conferences which have nothing to do with the Trump administration or “Muslim Ban.” McCarthy’s article for The Guardian pointed out itself that “Trump will lose little sleep over a group of liberal academics from Europe boycotting a roundtable on 19th-century literature,” while “If US scholars find it harder to hold such meetings, or, as a result, to sustain networks with overseas colleagues, the action might be positively damaging.” Suggestions to have video conference and hold two-site conferences while the executive order is challenged in court have been put forward.

Several organizations have moved ahead with planned conferences, putting them in the crosshairs of those in favor of the boycott. The International Studies Association (ISA) has gone ahead with its conference this month in Baltimore, and has largely avoided boycott calls by pledging to refund registration fees to those academics denied visas or entry into the U.S. for the convention. The intentions of those calling for the boycott, regardless, remain clear. These members of the academic community want to show their disdain for the new administration by refusing to attend conferences organized by members of the academic community in the first place.

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Adam S. Feuerstein
Adam S. Feuerstein is a Principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law. His practice encompasses a broad range of transactional and tax planning matters.
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