In December, the University of California’s 10 chancellors all made a decision to promote and preserve intellectual pursuit over a political agenda.
It was the right one.
Numerous institutions launched an academic boycott of Israel in April 2004 following rising tensions in the Israel-Palestine border conflict. The demonstration was part of the larger Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
But UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, along with his counterparts at other UC campuses, has consistently opposed the academic boycott in an attempt to further values of discussion and debate on campus.
Politically oriented academic boycotts tend to limit our exposure and access to sources and opportunities that allow us to expand our academic horizons. Having access to varying opinions is very important, as it allows universities to participate in an open exchange of knowledge and information, thus enabling students to form well-informed opinions of their own.
Universities and other institutions of higher education exist to promote healthy, well-rounded conversations regarding important issues impacting our world. Academic boycotts, on the contrary, oppose just that. As such, it is crucial that the UC continues to condemn and oppose any and all academic boycotts.
Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesperson, said the UC system has maintained a long-standing position opposing calls for boycott against and divestment from Israel.
By condemning the boycott, the UC chancellors made it clear the University will not compromise academic freedom at the expense of promoting a political agenda. Taking a neutral stance allows universities to separate themselves from biases that arise as a result of advocating for one side of international relations or political conflicts. Universities should aim to be spaces where all scholarly ideas and opinions are respected without judgement, inconvenience or threats.
Academic boycotts are detrimental, since they tend to do more harm than good. In most cases, they fail to accomplish their intended political goal, as ruling governments are generally more concerned and impacted by social and economic sanctions, rather than intellectual ones. Moreover, they injure the virtues of freedom and knowledge surrounding universities.
An academic boycott of Israel would severely limit the ability of faculty members and students to study abroad in Israel, participate in events held and sponsored by Israel or engage in talks with Israeli state officials. Thus, it poses a serious threat as it not only shuts down an important avenue of learning for Bruins, but can also make Jewish and other pro-Israel students and faculty members feel restricted.
Neil Netanel, a UCLA law professor, said the boycott would harm U.S. faculty members and students, as it would prevent many Israeli leaders, including Nobel laureates in various fields, from sharing their knowledge.
Policy surrounding academic boycotts is also tenuous because it is hard to determine what the grounds are for cutting educational ties with a nation. David Myers, a history professor, referenced a letter by the Pitzer College president, which notes how difficult it is to determine whether a geopolitical conflict merits academic boycott. China’s invasion of Tibet, for example, has not been met with calls for cutting intellectual partnerships.
The effects of academic boycotts can also trickle down to students’ educational endeavors.
Khushi Jain, a third-year cognitive science student, said studying abroad drastically changed her perspective on life and exposed her to a new culture and lifestyle.
“Academic boycotts prevent students from engaging in such programs and opportunities, which can shape their personalities and help them develop both professionally and personally,” Jain said.
Many have argued in support of academic boycotts, claiming they are a warranted means of opposing oppressive institutions. Many Israeli universities have, for example, denied Palestinians their basic rights. Palestinian students are subject to discrimination and suppression on Israeli campuses, which are patrolled by armed soldiers trained to quell any protests. Thus, those in favor of academic sanctions and boycotts believe cutting intellectual ties is an appropriate response.
But while an academic boycott may openly oppose such discrimination, it is harming scholars and students across the globe, by hindering their access to important information and knowledge. In addition, geopolitical conflicts are diplomatic concerns for the U.S. government, and there are nonviolent ways of opposing the actions of Israeli universities, such as through trade sanctions.
The worlds of academia and political agendas should be kept separate. It is important universities uphold their values of respect and diversity. Participating in academic boycotts compromises the pillars upon which institutions such as UCLA are built.
The UC chancellors have taken a controversial, but important stand by opposing the boycott. Students and faculty may disagree with that – but at least we still have the freedom to discuss it.