Last week, George Washington University announced the Ilana Feldman, an active advocate for academic boycotts of the Jewish state, will serve as the new dean of its school of international relations. David Bernstein names three reasons that Feldman’s association with the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) disqualifies her for such a position:
The first reason is that almost all universities [formally] oppose academic boycotts of Israel. [If] George Washington is among the institutions that have publicly taken that official position, . . . it should not be hiring faculty for administrative positions who have publicly dedicated themselves to the opposite position. For example, could one trust such a person to negotiate an exchange program with Hebrew University? One would think not, given that she has pledged “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions.”
Second, there is the matter of universities’ legal responsibilities. Universities are bound by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans them from engaging in discrimination based on race (which, for these purposes, includes ethnicity), and national origin. . . . Inevitably, [BDS] policies will have a wildly disproportionate discriminatory effect on people of Israeli national origin, and to a lesser but still significant effect on Jewish students.
Third, there is the issue of academic freedom. . . . An administrator pledged to an academic boycott is going to be an enemy of academic freedom.
But Bernstein offers one caveat:
I think BDS activists should be allowed to be administrators, but only if they publicly and contractually disavow any intention of adhering to BDS position while serving as administrators. . . . Academics who are unwilling to do this—i.e., unwilling to obey university policy, comply with civil-rights law, and respect academic freedom—have no business serving in administrative positions. In other words, faculty should not be banned from being administrators because they have held a political position.