At its annual meeting, the American Association of University Professors declined to vote to criticize Israel, yet voted to condemn Iran. In December, the MLA rejected a statement defending critics of Israel and replaced it with a much-milder statement defending contentious Middle East research. They also resisted condemning Ward Churchill’s firing, and instead only objected to the manner in which his investigation was carried out. What’s next? An admission that David Horowitz might occasionally have a point?
No, something more nuanced seems underway, at least in the AAUP—a prudential retrenchment away from outre pronouncements to focus on more practical, yet still contentious, and undoubtedly political work.
The AAUP vote on Iran condemned the government’s policy of denying higher education to those of the Baha’i faith. A resolution condemning Israeli policies that have prevented students in Gaza from leaving to attend to their studies was returned to the AAUP committee for review. Critics questioned why Israel was being targeted when countless states have similar restrictions on travel and education in place.
The AAUP also voted to oppose loyalty oaths and state proposals that equated intelligent design with traditional science—understandable in each case. Another vote opposed state efforts to permit the extension of concealed carry permits to university campuses.
Now, on balance this all does seem consciously more moderate than we’ve come to expect, but when the AAUP begins to congratulate itself for its foreign policy heterodoxy it’s difficult not to grow suspicious. Inside Higher Ed reported “When the AAUP ventured into foreign policy, its votes could prove surprising for association critic David Horowitz, as Cary Nelson, the AAUP president noted.” The Iran vote, centered on Baha’i students, isn’t especially surprising, nor, in fact, is their delayed action on the Israel question. After all, in 2005, the AAUP condemned the British Association of University Teachers’ academic boycott of Israel. Yet it seems undeniable that there’s a new awareness within the organization, and others, of the harm that nakedly political declarations can provide.
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