Recently I commented on statements issued by the president of Columbia University and the chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, which criticized the British University and College Union for considering a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions.
Both Lee Bollinger of Columbia and John Birgeneau at UC Berkeley strongly condemned the UCU boycott as representing an unacceptable infringement of academic freedom. In my original post I quoted Birgeneau; here is an excerpt from the even stronger statement by Bollinger:
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.
I asked Dr. John Welty, President of California State University – Fresno, to consider issuing a similar statement. He has not issued a press release, but he gave me permission to quote him as follows:
The future of our world is dependent upon the free interchange of ideas and a discussion of solutions to complex problems. Any actions to stifle interactions among universities and their faculties is counter-productive.
Since the statement does not mention the UCU boycott motion, I asked Dr. Welty if he would be prepared to go a bit further, by prefacing the above with something like “I oppose the UCU boycott of Israeli academics and institutions because…”
He was not.
Dr. Bollinger has asked the UCU to boycott Columbia too, if they must boycott Israeli institutions; and Dr. Birgeneau has said that they can add UC Berkeley to their list. Here in Fresno, Dr. Welty stands four-square behind academic freedom — as long as we don’t get too specific. I didn’t ask him for his position on apple pie.
In his defense, he is presently dealing with several scandals surrounding the university’s Athletic Department. Of course, given the fact that similar scandals erupt with the regularity of Old Faithful (perhaps slightly more frequently), I would expect that he would have developed ways of dealing with other issues by now.