The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has had a cumulative negative effect on academic values and university campus climates In the United States. The introduction of repeated academic boycott resolutions, the frequent highlighting of discriminatory intentions and opposition to open intellectual exchange clearly violates principles of academic freedom. Escalated polemics equating Nazis with Zionists polarize debate and debase our understanding. Hundreds of university presidents are on record against the academic boycott as a violation of academic freedom and about the social divisions that BDS campaigns leave in their wake.
Repeated divestment motions to divest from companies doing business with Israel have riled and further divided student bodies, sharpening intergroup tensions and introducing slander, falsity, and open calls for violence into campus proceedings. Forceful efforts aimed at disrupting speakers who come from Israel or speak for Israel have upended standards of freedom of expression and posed difficult choices for administrators about enforcing campus codes or writing new and better ones. There is no right to interfere with the freedom of speech of others or with the freedom of others to attend and hear public events.
In the past, many faculty and staff have been relatively quiescent before such BDS campaigns and resolutions; but in recent years academic faculty and staff have grown more active in openly opposing such resolutions, speaking out to protect free expression on campus, opposing the politicization of their academic professional associations, and calling out antisemitism when it appears. Those who teach, work and do research on campus are a key constituency to support academic freedom and deal with the BDS challenge.
But faculty and staff, like administrators, need knowledge and tools to intervene well in such matters. That is an important role that the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) seeks to play. AEN leaders know that students come and go; faculty remain. Students do not contribute to institutional memory; faculty do. The Academic Engagement Network rolled out in December 2015 based on the central assumption that faculty are a key voice that could be organized to counteract the harmful presence of BDS on American campuses, and in process could offer a counternarrative to the ceaseless, single-minded, simplistic one BDS offers. In less than two full years, the AEN has grown into a national faculty organization with 475 members on more than 180 campuses, and it is still growing.
A new guide and resource book for faculty prepared by the AEN is now out this September offering advice about what faculty can say and do in response to BDS on campuses. Academic Freedom, Freedom of Expression, and the BDS Challenge: A Guide and Resource Book for Faculty follows after a similar guide and resource work aimed at university presidents and chancellors appeared and garnered high praise a year ago. The new guide gathers suggestions for faculty responses and actions based on an exhaustive review of actions in recent years. The new guide provides faculty with historical background, information, advice on strategies, and examples from myriad campuses and organizations to vigorously make their voices heard. It also provides a variety of recommendations on other organizations with whom they can profitably collaborate
In joining the AEN, AEN faculty members agree to commit to be part of a national network of faculty and to act in their local settings arguing and speaking out against falsehood, advising university leaders, mentoring students, writing petitions and op eds, and acting as thought leaders on their campuses and nearby. As part of a growing current of faculty opinion, AEN members believe that in its opposition to academic freedom and free expression and in its contribution to currents of campus antisemitism, the BDS is part of a larger reality on campuses – a search for political orthodoxy and uniformity of thought, hostility to open inquiry, and expanded incivility. BDS is a persistent disservice to university academic life and deserves broad-scale condemnation.
The new guide provides a brief critical history of the BDS movement. The BDS movement is not what it presents itself as, either in its origins or its true purposes. The guide explores the roles faculty can play in relation to issues that directly impact students, faculty, the curriculum and co-curriculum, even efforts to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel students from social justice coalitions on campuses. It highlights various threats to free speech on campus as well as the alarming rise of antisemitism on campus from the political Left and also the white nationalist alt.Right.
If readers would like an electronic copy of the guide, they may write to the Academic Engagement Network at firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask for one to be forwarded to them, leaving an email address.