AAUP Journal Is Under Fire for Issue With 6 Essays Calling for Boycott of Israel

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The American Association of University Professors’ Journal of Academic Freedom has come under criticism from both inside and outside the organization for its new issue, which is dominated by essays calling for an academic boycott of Israel.

One member of the online publication’s editorial board—Matthew W. Finkin, a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign—has resigned in protest of its decision to publish a collection of essays that came down, six to one, in favor of a boycott and in opposition to the AAUP’s stand against academic boycotts.

Soon after the new issue came out last month, two other members of the journal’s board—Cary Nelson, a former AAUP president, and Ernst Benjamin, a former AAUP general secretary—persuaded the journal’s editor to publish responses defending the association’s 2005 decision to oppose academic boycotts as threats to academic freedom.

The editor, Ashley J. Dawson, has been criticized for failing to disclose that, before taking that position, he endorsed the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

In an interview on Monday, Mr. Dawson, a professor of English at both the City University of New York Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island, argued that he had no obligation to include such a disclosure because he had made the endorsement publicly. “It is not like any knowledge is being hidden,” he said. “My signature is out there.”

Mr. Benjamin said there was nothing wrong with Mr. Dawson’s having an opinion, but disclosing it would have been better “simply to avoid the criticism that arises from his not having disclosed it.”

Mr. Dawson also has been accused in Commentary, a conservative Jewish magazine, of improperly failing to disclose in the new journal issue that he edited a 2012 book called Why Boycott Israel? A Dossier on Palestine Today. The Chronicle was unable to find any record of such a book’s ever having been published.

As of Monday evening, two versions of Mr. Dawson’s curriculum vitae, published on his Web site, listed a book with such a title as a work in progress, but in an interview he said he had no idea how the listings got there. He said that he had never heard of the book and that it “doesn’t exist.”

“I must have been hacked,” Mr. Dawson said. “There is no such book. I have never edited anything like that.” Editors of the journal Social Text, listed on the online versions of the curriculum vitae as the book’s publisher, could not be reached on Monday for comment.

Beating the Bushes

The original call for papers for the current issue of the Journal of Academic Freedom, which is peer-reviewed, solicited “scholarly articles relating to the topic of academic freedom and globalization.” The potential topics it suggested for writers included the movement to boycott Israel; academic freedom on overseas campuses such as Yale-NUS College, in Singapore; and how academic freedom has been affected by the Occupy movement, the global economic downturn, and the proliferation of massive open online courses.

As it turned out, of the nine essays published in the journal, seven focused on the boycott movement, and it was opposed in only one of them. That essay was written by Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project, an advocacy group.

Mr. Dawson, who became the journal’s editor just over a year ago, said he simply did not receive many submissions on topics other than the Israel boycott. “I did not beat the bushes for submissions, maybe, the way I should have,” he said. In the journal’s introduction, he, too, criticized the AAUP’s position on an academic boycott of Israel, arguing that the group was not doing enough to protect the academic freedom of professors in Israel who criticize that nation’s policies toward Palestinians.

In one of the six essays in support of a boycott, Joan W. Scott, a historian at the Institute for Advanced Study, revisits the AAUP’s controversial 2006 decision to cancel an international meeting on academic boycotts and suggests that the association bowed to political pressure from Israel.

Mr. Nelson’s response to the new journal issue disputes her account of events and says that the AAUP’s leadership wanted only to postpone the conference, in response to a loss of foundation support, and that Ms. Scott and other conference organizers had made the decision to cancel it.

In explaining his decision to quit the journal’s board, Mr. Finkin said “it struck me as very odd” that Mr. Dawson would publish so many essays opposing the AAUP’s own position on the boycott issue. “I don’t question the editor’s right to do so, I question his judgment,” he said.

Mr. Dawson said he is now soliciting essays in opposition to an academic boycott of Israel to add to the current issue of the online journal.

Mr. Nelson, the founding editor of the journal, first published in 2010, said, “By the time this is finished—probably within the next week—it is going to look like a very balanced issue.”

Correction (10/22/2013, 11:15 a.m.): The original version of this article misidentified Joan W. Scott as a Princeton University historian. In fact, she is affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, N.J. The article has been updated to reflect that correction.

AAUP Journal Is Under Fire for Issue With 6 Essays Calling for Boycott of Israel

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