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OPEN LETTER TO UCT ON TB DAVIE LECTURE

Concerned Citizens for Academic Freedom at UCT

Aug 6, 2019 — 

OPEN LETTER TO UCT ON TB DAVIE MEMORIAL LECTURE

By: Cary R. Nelson

Chair, Alliance for Academic Freedom

 

August 2, 2019

I am writing, to express my personal and professional view of the decision of the University of Cape Town’s academic freedom committee to invite former faculty member Steven Salaita to deliver the annual TB Davie lecture this August.

There is more than one painful irony at stake in selecting Salaita as a spokesperson for academic freedom. His long term support for an academic boycott of Israeli universities puts him in conflict with the fundamental values that define the academy, foremost among those being the principle that faculty members worldwide be free to communicate their research and analysis with one another without restraint or inhibition. University and faculty association votes to support a boycott of Israeli universities have already generated serious assaults on students and faculty and curtailed their personal academic freedom. The claim that only institutions are affected has been repeatedly shown to be false. Academic boycotts furthermore threaten international research collaboration and deny students the freedom to pursue study abroad programs. Boycott debates have inspired faculty members to deny students letters of recommendation and carry out numerous other personal acts of aggression that violate professional standards.

Salaita’s fierce anti-Zionism last year led him to cross a particularly dangerous line into anti-Semitism: he urged that Zionists be cast out of progressive organizations and campaigns. The effect on a campus or community would be abhorrent.

The Cape Town academic freedom committee has the right to invite any speaker it chooses, and Salaita has the right to say whatever he wishes. He has previously indulged in hate speech, and he may do so when he visits Cape Town. That speech too is protected. Some might urge that his invitation be withdrawn, but that would be wrong.

What should happen instead is that the campus and community should organize alternative programming to ensure that opposing views are heard. Salaita’s lecture can be used as a teachable moment to educate the community about the consequences of following his advice.

It is particularly critical to do so because Cape Town is presently considering a proposal to support an academic boycott of Israeli universities. It would be unwise and unprofessional to make that decision without a full airing of competing views.

My new book, Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & The Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State (Indiana University Press) includes a long chapter devoted to Salaita’s research and political speech. Another chapter details the personal assaults on students and faculty worldwide carried out by supporters of academic boycotts.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Cary R. Nelson

Jubilee Professor

Chair, Alliance for Academic Freedom

2006-2012 President, American Association of University Professors


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