Campus News

Statement by President Barry Mills on Proposed UCU Boycott

Story posted August 09, 2007

In May, delegates to the United Kingdomís largest higher education trade union and professional association — the University and College Union (UCU) — voted 158 to 99 to endorse a Palestinian trades' union call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The vote requires the boycott resolution to be circulated among the UCUís 120,000 members for further debate and discussion.

While UCU leaders believe the proposed boycott is not supported by a majority of their membership, it has nevertheless raised serious concerns in Britain, Israel, and the United States — even prompting a full-page ad of protest in the August 8, 2007, edition of The New York Times paid for by the American Jewish Committee and signed by college and university presidents across America. The presidents urged those who would support such a boycott to also boycott their own institutions.

There can be no doubt whatsoever about my position on this matter. Boycotts such as the one proposed by UCU delegates are a threat to the foundations of academic freedom and to education in general because they substitute silence and inaction for discussion and the thoughtful consideration of differing points of view. I decided against participating in the ad because I do not believe it appropriate for Bowdoin College to sign on to an ad funded by an outside advocacy group.

At Bowdoin, we believe firmly in the obligation to use oneís knowledge, education, and talents in service to the common good. This requires dialogue, the synthesis of information and perspectives, and the active engagement of well-meaning people working toward solutions to seemingly intractable problems. A boycott of Israeli educational institutions by educators in the UK could have far-reaching effects, none of which, in my view, would advance the principles and purposes of higher education. This is why I strongly oppose the UCU action and urge every member of the Bowdoin community to remain vigilant in promoting and protecting academic freedom, open dialogue, and the principles of a Bowdoin education.

Barry Mills
Bowdoin College

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