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Statement in Opposition to British Union of University and Colleges Proposed Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

July 9, 2007

To: The University Community

As with many fellow presidents of the Association of American Universities (AAU), I today express my support for the statement of Columbia University President Lee Bollinger in opposition to a proposed boycott against Israeli academic institutions. Lee well captured the belief of so many of us when he wrote: “I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy.” In a similar vein in my inaugural address, I characterized academic freedom as a fundamental value of the University of Rochester. I wrote: “I will defend the academic freedom of this University.”

When the academic freedom of colleagues at universities with whom we have relationships is endangered, it is important that we articulate our bedrock commitment to the freedom of all scholars and students to think freely without fear of boycott, punishment, or retribution regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or gender.

Below are statements by President Bollinger, AAU President Robert Berdahl, and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

Statement of Columbia University President Lee Bollinger:

“As a citizen, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent vote by Britain’s new University and College Union to advance a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. As a university professor and president, I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment. In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.

“At Columbia I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities that the UCU is now all too eager to isolate—as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their governments’ policies. Therefore, if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.”

Statement of AAU President Robert Berdahl:

“On behalf of the 62 U.S. and Canadian research universities that make up the Association of American Universities, I urge members of Great Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) to reject a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

“Academic boycotts are inimical to the free exchange of ideas that is essential to academic freedom. Members of the academic profession should seek to preserve academic freedom, not restrict it. It is our hope that the UCU will vote down this boycott.”

Statement of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau:

“As chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, I share the growing outrage over the efforts by some members of Britain’s University and College Union to promulgate a boycott against Israeli academics and academic institutions. Their threat to cut off all funding, visits, and joint publishing with Israeli institutions violates the fundamental principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech that are the hallmarks of great universities nationally and internationally. We hold these values most deeply at Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement.

“I join in solidarity with President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University in support of Israeli scholars and institutions, and I join him in saying this to those members of the British UCU who would pursue this reprehensible action: if you seek to isolate Israeli universities then you must also include Berkeley, along with Columbia, in your boycott. We stand with all—including Prime Minister Tony Blair and British higher education officials—who have rightfully and strongly condemned this effort.”