Folt, Dean reject call for Israel boycott

The faculty of UNC’s Department of American studies is meeting today to reconsider its participation in the national American Studies Association.

The organization, which publishes materials on American studies and includes scholars from across the country, drafted a resolution to support a boycott of Israeli higher education institutions Dec. 4. The boycott, called for over what the ASA sees as concerns for Palestinians’s human rights, asks universities to not participate in international exchange with Israeli schools.

UNC administrators responded with a rejection of the boycott.

Chancellor Carol Folt and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean released a statement Dec. 31 that said the University has a 200-year history of promoting access and international collaboration in higher education — arguing that the ASA’s resolution directly opposes that concept.

Bernie Herman, chairman of UNC’s American studies department, said this will be the first time faculty members have had a chance to discuss what — if anything — they want to do in response to the boycott.

Herman said the meeting would be closed to the public to allow faculty a chance to speak freely. He said many UNC professors have been or are currently actively involved in the association.

He said he personally felt the issue was not about politics.

“It comes down to a question of academic freedom, and I will go to my grave protecting academic freedom,” Herman said. “It is antithetical to the values of a public institution.”

Curtis Marez, president of the ASA, said in an open letter to the association’s members that its offices have received threatening phone calls and emails since the resolution was written — some have been targeted at specific schools’s programs. Marez said the resolution is protected by the First Amendment.

“While disagreement and contention are routine aspects of academic culture, threats and intimidation are not acceptable under any circumstance,” he said in the letter.

Junior global studies major Layla Quran moved to the United States from Palestine at the age of four and said the ASA’s decision was a step in the right direction.

“I really applaud it and think it’s a wonderful thing,” she said.

She said the boycott is specifically aimed at the institutions themselves, which she said she thinks are complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. She said the resolution is not aimed at actual scholars or research coming out of the country.

Quran said the Association for Asian American Studies also made a decision to boycott Israeli educational institutions last year. It was the first major academic organization to do so.

Quran said Israel has denied open access to education for many Palestinians, and said Folt and Dean should take that into consideration.

“Before they make such resolutions, she should understand that academic freedom isn’t to support it for one group of people,” she said.

“Academic freedom is something that should be applied to all people.”

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