McRobbie, Daniels and the ASA
Open letter to Michael A. McRobbie and Mitch Daniels
Presidents, Indiana University and Purdue University
January 7, 2014
Dear Presidents McRobbie and Daniels,
We, the undersigned, are professors and teachers of American studies and other subjects in universities, colleges, and high schools, in Indiana and elsewhere. We write to object to your decisions in December to condemn the American Studies Association for its endorsement of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli academic institutions.
Our objection here is not on the basis of the merits of BDS, for we hold a wide range of opinions on BDS, from staunch opposition to enthusiastic support. We object to the form of your opposition to the ASA resolution:
1. We object to your disregard of the ASA’s extensive democratic decision-making process. The question of whether to boycott Israeli institutions has been debated within the ASA for over six years. The Executive Committee forwarded the final resolution to boycott to the National Council one year ago. After careful deliberation, the National Council voted unanimously to endorse in November to support the resolution. The association would have been within its rights to endorse the boycott on the Council’s decision alone, but instead they turned the matter over to the full membership, conducting an extensive open election in which every member was repeatedly invited to participate. By a 2-1 margin, 66% of those who voted did so in favor of the resolution. While the vote reflects the collective will of the majority, the minority voice is also honored as the ASA leadership continues to encourage discussion and debate on the issue.
2. We object to your overriding of faculty governance and democratic process. To this democratic process, you responded without consulting with your faculty before you took a position representing your entire institution. President McRobbie, you moved to cancel an institutional membership paid for out of departmental funds. Faculty in that department are entitled to decide how to disburse the resources allocated to their discipline.
To compensate for this procedurally flawed withholding of resources, we will all consider a small donation to the ASA, and urge readers of this letter to do the same at www.theasa.net/ . We suggest a donation of $18, the sum of the numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the word chai, life. We invite our colleagues of all faiths and beliefs to join the Jewish tradition of donating in multiples of eighteen to affirm a shared commitment to generosity of spirit.
3. We object to your distortions of the implications of the ASA vote. The ASA resolution has no bearing on the conduct of any of its individual members, and certainly not on members’ institutions. It implies nothing at all about the conduct of IU, Purdue, nor any other U.S. university. The resolution governs only the ASA’s own relationships with Israeli universities. Your institutions are not directly affected.
4. We object to your rhetorical manipulation of the principle of academic freedom, which you have violated in spirit. You objected to a boycott by calling for a boycott. You have created an atmosphere in which some of our colleagues are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals to themselves as individuals or to their departments in the form of diminished resources and administrative support.
As academics, we affirm the right of academic organizations to robustly debate the major issues of our day, which include the conflict in the Middle East. You are both, of course, fully entitled to take any position you choose in relation to the BDS movement and the ASA’s decision, as individuals. But we do not think it appropriate that you have spoken in our name.
Micol Seigel, Associate Professor of American Studies & History, Indiana University,Bloomington
Bill V. Mullen, Professor of English and American Studies, Purdue University
Shane Vogel, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University, Bloomington
Purnima Bose, Associate Professor of English and International Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
Benjamin Robinson, Associate Professor of Germanic Studies, Indiana University Bloomington
Benjamin Balthaser, Assistant Professor of English, Indiana University, South Bend
Marlon M. Bailey, Associate Professor of Gender Studies and American Studies, IndianaUniversity, Bloomington
Mona Bhan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Depauw University
Nahyan Fancy, Associate Professor of History, Depauw University
April Lidinsky,Director, Women's and Gender Studies Program, Indiana University, South Bend
Ilana Gershon, Associate Professor of Communication and Culture, Indiana University,Bloomington
LaMonda Horton-Stallings, Associate Professor of Gender Studies, Indiana University,Bloomington
Phaedra C. Pezzullo, Associate Professor of Communication & Culture, Indiana University,Bloomington
Steven Alan Carr, Associate Professor of Communication, Indiana University-Purdue University,Fort Wayne
Scott Herring, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University, Bloomington
Lee Kahan, Associate Professor, Department of English, Indiana University, South Bend
Jake Mattox, Associate Professor, Department of English, Indiana University, South Bend
Karen Gindele, Associate Professor, Department of English, Indiana University, South Bend
Monica Tetzlaff, Associate Professor, Department of History, Indiana University, South Bend
Elaine Roth, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University, South Bend
Paul Mishler, Associate Professor of Labor Studies, Indiana University
Berenice A. Carroll, Professor Emerita of Political Science and Women's Studies, PurdueUniversity
Mike Gasser, Associate Professor Emeritus, School of Informatics and Computing, IndianaUniversity, Bloomington