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Strong Evidence that Faculty Using Classrooms to Promote BDS

Photo courtesy of AMCHA

New research released by AMCHA Initiative provides the first empirical evidence suggesting that faculty who support academic BDS are actively promoting that political agenda directly to students in their classrooms.

The study, which examined 50 syllabi at 40 public and private colleges and universities over an eleven-year period, reveals that:

  • Academic BDS-supporting instructors had an average of 78% of their course readings authored by BDS supporters, whereas non-BDS-supporting instructors had an average of 17% of their course readings authored by BDS supporters.
  • The two groups of instructors showed themselves to be qualitatively distinct from one another with respect to the selection of course readings, with almost no overlap of the groups: all of the academic BDS-supporting instructors had a majority of their readings authored by BDS supporters, whereas only 2 of the 35 syllabi of non-BDS-supporting instructors had a majority of their course readings authored by BDS supporters, and none more than 60%. These data demonstrate that the large quantitative difference between the groups is not just the result of a few outliers, but represents a qualitative difference between these two groups of instructors in terms of how they select course readings.

“The stark difference between the average percentage of course readings with pro-BDS authors in the syllabi of academic BDS-supporting instructors (78%) and in the syllabi of instructors who had not expressed public support for any kind of BDS (17%), with almost no overlap between these two groups, leaves little doubt that instructors who support academic BDS make a calculated choice to heavily weight their course materials with readings authored by BDS supporters,” wrote the authors. They suggested that these results, in turn, imply that not only are academic boycotting instructors actively including pro-BDS readings, they are also “severely limiting or completely excluding readings that would provide a more balanced picture of Israel.”

In their report, “Bringing BDS into the Classroom,” the authors fully acknowledged that “freedom of speech protects faculty’s right to sign petitions and make extramural statements in support of academic BDS and academic freedom generally protects their right to develop and teach courses as they see fit,” however they also raised serious and undeniably harmful consequences of “politically-motivated faculty weaponizing their course curricula.” They noted that “distorting and blocking the flow of knowledge” is a violation of “the norms and standards of scholarly inquiry” and undermines “the university’s academic mission.” The researchers also noted that “faculty who use their classrooms to give academic legitimacy to a wholly one-sided, anti-Israel perspective, in compliance with the guidelines of academic BDS, can engender among their students hostility not only towards Israel, but towards Israel’s on-campus supporters, sentiments that can easily lead to acts targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm.”

“Signing a petition in your own name on your personal time is one thing, but substituting personal politics for sound pedagogy from a lectern in a university classroom is something altogether very different,” stated Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, one of the report’s lead researchers.

AMCHA’s previous research supports this new report. Its 2017 study, “The Impact of Academic Boycotters of Israel on U.S. Campuses,” provided evidence that academic boycotters may indeed be using their own academic departments’ public events as venues for such boycott-consistent, anti-normalization efforts. The study found that departments of Middle East, Ethnic and Women’s Studies with one or more faculty members who had expressed public support for an academic boycott of Israel were five to 12 times more likely to sponsor Israel-related lectures and symposia with pro-BDS speakers than departments with no academic boycotters. It also revealed that schools, where academic departments held events with BDS-supporting speakers, were twice as likely to have occurrences of student-produced anti-Zionist expression, and that expression was very strongly linked to acts of Israel-related peer-on-peer harassment.

In addition, AMCHA’s 2019 study, “The Harassment of Jewish Students on U.S. Campuses: How Eliminationist Anti-Zionism and Academic BDS Incite Campus Anti-Semitism,” revealed a dramatic increase in faculty participation in academic BDS promotion and implementation and Israel-related anti-Semitic expression from 2017 to 2018: the number of incidents of academic BDS promotion or attempted implementation involving individual faculty or academic departments nearly quadrupled; the number of events sponsored by academic departments that contained the demonization or delegitimization of Israel increased by 85%; and the number of departmentally-sponsored events at which one or more speakers advocated for or condoned violence against Israel or Israel’s elimination nearly tripled.

The researchers called on college and university leaders to take the following immediate steps to address this disturbing new data:

  • Release public statement on the harm of BDS to U.S. students and faculty: University leaders should publicly acknowledge that while an academic boycott of Israel may ostensibly target Israeli universities and scholars, its implementation directly and substantively hurts students and faculty on their own campus, not only subverting their scholarly and educational opportunities and curtailing their academic freedom but corrupting the entire academic mission of the university. Recently, chancellors and presidents at the University of California, University of Michigan, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Pitzer College issued strong statements acknowledging the harms of academic BDS for students and faculty and condemning its implementation on their own campuses.
  • Establish policies against using the classroom for political advocacy: Universities should establish and publicly affirm policies that prohibit faculty from using their classrooms for political rather than pedagogical purposes.
  • Urge faculty to establish and enforce safeguards against classroom abuse: Faculty should be urged by university administrators to establish their own safeguards against the politicization of the academy. For example, following the refusal of a faculty member to write a letter of recommendation for a student wishing to study in Israel, a University of Michigan panel, appointed by the president, issued a report and recommendations emphasizing that faculty members must make judgments and act based solely on educational and professional reasons, not political motivations.

“Ultimately, it is up to academic departments and faculty senates to determine whether the promotion of one-sided, highly politicized course content is deemed a legitimate use of academic freedom or an abuse of it. However, given the clear and present harm that such politicization can cause to our schools, our students and society, it is time for tuition and taxpayers, as well as state and federal legislators, to demand that faculty address this question forthrightly, and to hold them accountable for their answer,” concluded the authors.

AMCHA monitors more than 400 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity. The organization has recorded more than 3,000 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses since 2015. Its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker, organized by state and university, can be viewed here.

AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States.

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