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President Donald R. Eastman III

President's Remarks

Remarks on American Studies Assocation Boycott of Israeli Colleges and Universities

Dr. Donald R. Eastman III January 10, 2014

One hesitates to respond to anything as silly as an academic boycott. For one academic institution to alienate another is antithetical to any notion of academic freedom, or frankly, education. Academic freedom is a great symbol of a true democracy, and there is no better place than the academy for the discussion of ideas that challenge prevailing views, incite emotion and promote understanding. That makes it ever more confounding as to why the American Studies Association, a professional organization for scholars, would lead the charge to boycott Israeli colleges and universities.

As the enrollment of Jewish students at Eckerd College has grown, we have observed a surprising and inspiring impact on our students, Jew and non-Jew. At a recent Shabbat, which attracted more than a hundred students, I talked with a young Jewish student who admitted she was there because her non-Jewish roommate had encouraged her to attend. Though she hadn’t been particularly devout before coming to college, she said her attendance at Shabbats, her Birthright trip and relationships with faculty and students at Eckerd had revealed to her important lessons about her history and herself. Those opportunities to explore, engage in self-discovery and share knowledge are fundamentally what an educational community - at Eckerd and beyond - should encourage.

The ASA boycott is discouraging and sadly familiar. In 2007, Britain’s University College Union’s boycott resulted in a legion of colleges and universities standing with their Israeli colleagues. And here we stand again.