Prof. Peter B. Shalen, University of Illinois at Chicago, Writes to British Unions Leadership on Boycott/Blacklist resolutions

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To the leadership of NATFHE:

I have studied Resolution 198C, which is on the agenda for the upcoming NATFHE Conference in Blackpool. The resolution reads, in part:

“Conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals and to consider the
appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.” This last phrase refers to certain real or alleged actions by the government or by universities in
Israel.

In short, the resolution would encourage the membership of NAFTHE to restrict their professional contacts with Israeli scholars according to a political litmus test. To maintain that singling out scholars from one country for such treatment can “ensur[e] equity and non-discrimination” strikes me as classic doublethink. But my concerns go beyond the moral ugliness of the proposed resolution.

The international academic community includes people with a huge range of opinions and perspectives on the complex political issues of our day. Very little would be left of academic life if all scholars and scientists were to restrict their professional contacts on the basis of political agendas. If Resolution 198C were to pass, the membership of NATFHE could avoid damaging academic life in Great Britain only by ignoring the resolution, in which case it is the stature of your organization that would suffer damage.

It seems appropriate to illustrate the issue with a personal experience. In March of this year I gave a series of lectures at a workshop at the International Centre for the Mathematical Sciences at
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. It was most gratifying when the organizers wrote me after the workshop to say that, in response to a questionnaire, participants had been “unanimous in their praise of the series of lectures given by the… main speakers.” The organizers added that it was “clear that people [had] found the workshop extremely valuable,” and they thanked me “for the effort [I had] put into making it so successful.”

If the organizers had followed the policy encouraged by Resolution 198C, my participation in this workshop would have been impossible. Besides being a Professor at the University of Illinois at
Chicago, I am an Affiliate Professor at the University of Haifa, and a member of the International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom of Bar-Ilan University. I would therefore have been subject to the political litmus test described in the resolution. And because I am strongly at odds with the political ideology underlying the resolution—in particular, because I enthusiastically support
Israel’s construction of the West Bank separation barrier, which I believe has prevented a large number of terror attacks—I would have failed the test.

The membership of the Association of University Teachers rejected a boycott resolution last year because they recognized the damage it could do to British academic life or to their organization. I urge you to withdraw Resolution 198C from consideration at the upcoming meeting.

Very truly yours,
Peter B. Shalen
Department of Mathematics, Statistics and
Computer Science
University of Illinois at Chicago

Prof. Peter B. Shalen, University of Illinois at Chicago, Writes to British Unions Leadership on Boycott/Blacklist resolutions

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