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Open letter regarding the British University and College Union proposal to boycott Israeli faculty and academic institutions

Lehigh University’s mission statement begins with the phrase: To advance learning through the integration of teaching, research, and service to others. The essence of the academic enterprise is to advance the exchange of knowledge and ideas. This mission necessarily calls us to be open and receptive to intellectual discourse with others. There is no room in the pursuit of this mission for the isolation of any group of academics.

Recently, leaders from the British University and College Union (UCU) proposed a boycott of Israel’s academic community. Regardless of the motive, a boycott of an academic community is absolutely antithetical to the mission of academia.

This proposal has been resoundingly condemned by a number of groups, including the U.S. House of Representatives, hundreds of university faculty and presidents and a number of academic organizations. We at Lehigh join in deploring the boycott and urging the membership of the UCU to reject such a proposal swiftly and publicly.

I have joined my fellow American Association for the Advancement of Science Board members in condemning this boycott. The AAAS Board statement is a reiteration of similar statements released in previous years in response to previous calls for a boycott.

International collaboration and exchange is more important than ever. Lehigh University welcomes students and scholars from abroad and we send members of our own campus community around the world in pursuit of knowledge, shared experience and collaboration. To isolate academics for the politics of their governments punishes exactly the wrong people; university scholars repeatedly serve diplomacy through their cooperative and collegial relationships. Throughout history, academic collaboration persisted across political boundaries, even during wars and conflicts.

In today’s globally connected world it is essential to protect and uphold the free and open exchange of people and ideas. A boycott of any group is harmful to all. We denounce this concept and urge the British University and College Union to reject the motion put forward by its delegates. Rather than initiating a boycott, the UCU should be hosting exchanges and visitors who will confront the issues that face them and work together toward creative solutions.

—Alice P. Gast, President

Posted on Monday, August 20, 2007

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