Citing Israel Boycott, Kenyon Severs Ties With American Studies Association [Update]

O'Connor House

O’Connor House is home to the American Studies department. (Image via Flickr)

Kenyon College has joined the growing list of schools who have condemned the American Studies Association (ASA) for their recently passed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The ASA, which bills itself as ” the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history,” announced on December 16 that over 66% of its voters had endorsed a resolution that constitutes “a refusal on the part of the ASA in its official capacities to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic  institutions, or with scholars…until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.”

In addition to voicing his support of the American Studies department’s decision to withdraw the College’s ASA membership, President Decatur criticized the group for politicizing the liberal arts:

The ASA is, first and foremost, an academic society aimed at the promotion of interdisciplinary studies of American culture and history. This commitment to scholarship, teaching, and learning is what drew Kenyon to participate in ASA activities in the past. But, as the president of a College with an unwavering commitment to the liberal arts and the concept of academic freedom, I reject the notion of a boycott of academic institutions as a geopolitical tool.  I concur with the decision of our American Studies program to withdraw as an institutional member of the ASA.

Kenyon is only the latest of many to react to the ASA’s boycott. Many schools — from BU to Yale — have rejected the boycott, though Kenyon is one of only a handful to take the further step of withdrawing their ASA membership (Brandeis, Penn State Harrisburg and Indiana University have also done so).

In explaining his boycott views to the press, Decatur has cited Wesleyan University president Michael S. Roth’s recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, which calls the boycott a “repugnant attack on academic freedom.”

Collegiate media is abuzz with news of boycott reactions, including a piece in The Harvard Crimson today.

For its part, the ASA has told its member institutions that the boycott “is not designed to curtail dialogue.”

American Studies, an interdisciplinary major at Kenyon, is chaired by Professor Peter Rutkoff. The Thrill has reached out to Professor Rutkoff for comment and will update this story as it develops.

Update: Rutkoff tells The Thrill he called the ASA’s boycott “ill-considered” when announcing the department’s decision not to renew its membership. “I think they, the ASA leadership, have confused political criticism of a state policy with pressuring, even hurting, academic colleagues who may or may not have anything to do with that policy, indeed who may even share the same critique,” he said.

7 responses

  1. Will the Palestinian Nelson Mandela be shunned by the American bourgeois for as long as they shunned Nelson Mandela? Will s/he be on no-fly lists and regarded as a terrorist even 15 years after s/he is released from prison? Will Israeli nationalists be as reviled as we now revile the nationalists who ran brutal governments in yesteryear? I’m not saying that the ASA is right but we’re liberal arts kids and we should embrace controversy and complexity. Otherwise the discussion is over before it even began, starved in its infancy (perhaps that is a metaphor for the conditions of gazans living under the blockade…)–but enjoy your virtual snow globes and catty blogs. Happy Xmas (war is over if you want it, etc etc).

    • This is a ridiculous comment. This is a decision about keeping academic discourse open, not about a political issue. Come on.

      • everything is political or has the liberal arts taught you nothing? And with the way things are going I’d rather be a black bloc kid throwing a newspaper bin at a line of riot police than a moderate reformer–the latter will inevitably be guilty in part of whatever genocide comes next from this terrible machine.

  2. I disagree with the ASA’s boycott, but I also wonder whether we should be boycotting a boycott (so-to-speak) by cutting ties with the ASA.

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