New research released Wednesday by AMCHA Initiative provides the first empirical evidence showing that faculty who support academic BDS are actively promoting this political agenda directly to students in their classrooms.
The study (Bringing BDS into the Classroom), which examined 50 syllabi at 40 public and private colleges and universities over an eleven-year period, reveals that:
1. 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.
2. 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, 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.
The researchers called on college and university leaders to take the following immediate steps to address this disturbing new data:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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,” the authors concluded.