The Constitution of the MLA states that its purpose is “to promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects.” We therefore have an obligation, as scholars, to pursue political goals that address “our common interests as teachers,” such as advocating against the casualization of the academic workforce. We should not however subordinate scholarly institutions, be it our classrooms or the MLA, to partisan political goals to which any of us, individually, may be devoted: we should pursue such goals as members of the civic community, not as scholars in a professional association. Those who would impose a sectarian political platform on the MLA will harm it and weaken its ability to act on behalf of the profession. Those who misuse the classroom for advocacy invite censorship or risk censoring their students. Those who insist on boycotts will exclude their opponents from the association. Those who seek to punish or silence colleagues for their political positions violate the principle of free speech and undermine the moral and intellectual power of the academy.

This MLA Commons group welcomes civil conversation about scholarship and politics, censorship of alternative viewpoints, and the aspiration by boycott advocates to purge the scholarly community of institutions and individuals they deem undesirable.

The discussion in the group is open to all readers, but only logged-in MLA members may contribute. Please see also the discussion taking place in the group MLA Members for Justice in Palestine.

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Academic Boycott Subverts Academic Freedom

1 reply, 2 voices Last updated by  Ann R. Shapiro 6 years ago
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    Russell A. Berman

    BDS proponents claim that the boycott will not impinge on anyone’s academic freedom. (In fact, as posted already, Omar Barghouti well understands the threat to academic freedom–he just thinks it’s worthwhile.)

    Previous MLA resolutions on foreign policy issues have been statements of sentiment, condemning this or that political situation. In contrast, BDS asks the MLA to take certain actions–such as stop selling the Bibliography to Israeli universities–and to direct its members to cease certain academic activities, such as cooperation with scholars from Israeli universities. It is sophistry to pretend that BDS will not harm academic freedom–just as it will harm the MLA and MLA members.

    While BDS proponents in the MLA try to whitewash it, it is worth looking at what PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel), the “gold standard” on  BDS, have to say. Here is  an analysis of the significance of the boycott agenda.


    Ann R. Shapiro

    I agree completely with this post.  The MLA should not be supporting academic boycotts of any kind.  Such action ignores the mission of the MLA.

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