A few days ago, on Sunday, May 4, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) passed Resolution 11.35: Wesleyan Divestment from Companies Profiting from or Contributing to Illegal Occupation of Palestine. This resolution has two operative clauses. The first calls upon Wesleyan University to divest from companies that a) provide weapons, security systems, prisons, or military support for the occupation of Palestinian land; b) build or maintain the wall between Israel and Palestine and the demolition of Palestinian homes; and c) help build, maintain, or develop Israeli settlements, outposts, roads, and transportation systems in occupied Palestinian territory (defined in the resolution as the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem). The goal of the resolution is to remove the financial incentive to participate in the occupation of Palestinian land. The resolution’s second clause recognizes that the University will likely not divest from Israeli companies, and thus calls upon the WSA to divest its own endowment from the University’s endowment to avoid supporting the occupation by the transitive property.
There are new developments from the ongoing controversy around President Roth’s denunciation of the American Studies Association’s recent resolution supporting the academic boycott of Israeli universities. Alums began circulating a still-growing petition earlier this month expressing support for the ASA decision and criticizing Roth for poor argument and hypocrisy.
Current Wes students, it seems, have followed suit. A separate petition has been making the rounds on email and social media in recent days and has already garnered over fifty signatures. Echoing the alumni declarations of support for the ASA’s boycott, the document also calls on the WSA to divest its own holdings from “companies that directly profit from or materially contribute to the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories”.
If such a resolution is adopted, Wesleyan will be following a long and growing line of universities who have endorsed the BDS movement. Read the full text of the petition after the jump or sign here:
Over the past few weeks, it has been difficult to see a newspaper, blog or journal without reading an opinion about the recent vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) to boycott Israeli universities. The ASA boycott incorporates “formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions” and “scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions.”I think the boycott is misguided and wrong. Boycotting all Israeli universities is a grave assault on academic freedom and does little to achieve peace.
I am glad to see that President Roth condemned the boycott. Roth argued that the boycott lacked consistency. That is, why boycott Israel while ignoring North Korea, Russia or China? This argument has merit and proves a double standard on the part of the ASA. However, many opinions have used this argument to show that the boycott has its foundations in anti-Semitism. The President of the ASA did not help his case when stating that, “One has to start somewhere” when explaining the decision to boycott Israel. However, there is no reason to believe that the ASA had its motives rooted in anti-Jewish sentiment.
To understand the morality of the boycott, I think it is important to explore the purpose of a university. Universities, like many institutions, are concerned with professional, not political, performance. While the ASA will not be boycotting specific Israeli professors based on their citizenship, they will not allow them to participate in academic forums if they are sponsored by an Israeli institution. However, if an Israeli institution condemns the occupation, they are exempt from the boycott. I personally do think that Israeli universities should take a stance in opposition to the occupation, but I think it is wrong to boycott universities based on their views. To explain this reasoning I would like to propose a thought experiment. University X is a progressive, liberal institution. However, Professor Y, who is eligible for tenure, is an outspoken critic of many of the university’s policies. It would be wrong of the board of trustees to deny this professor tenure because he does not conform to the university’s beliefs. Non-conforming ideas lead to progress. A university has the right to define its own beliefs, however misguided they may be.
“Your comment is awaiting moderation…”: an alumni response to Michael Roth
Calls for a boycott of the administration’s capital campaign have re-emerged this week as President Michael Roth continues to solicit donations in the name of financial aid. Alums are refusing to contribute on the grounds that doing so would be a vote of confidence in increasingly reactionary, discriminatory policies. As of now, there remains no plan for Wesleyan to return to need blind admissions.
The following statement was submitted in response to Roth’s latest blog post – where it is still “awaiting moderation” (don’t hold your breath). We are posting it here in the meantime so you can see it. A similar statement has emerged on a Facebook group for recent alumni.
Support Wesleyan — Refuse to Donate!
President Roth mentions twice in his “Giving Tuesday” appeal that we can support financial aid at Wesleyan by donating to the University today.
What Michael Roth doesn’t mention is that 68% of every gift earmarked for financial aid gets drafted into the general operating budget, and only 32% of such gifts actually goes to improving the University’s financial aid budget. This is a dismaying betrayal of trust.
It is brazen for Michael Roth and the Wesleyan PR folks to encourage us to support financial aid at Wesleyan the year after Roth and the Board took unprecedented steps to erode access and decrease spending on financial aid, by ending Wesleyan’s policy of admitting students on a “Need-Blind” basis (wherein students were admitted based solely on their promise as applicants, without knowledge of their ability to pay).
This year’s freshman class, the first admitted under the new “Need-Aware” admissions policy, which actively discriminates against poor students, contains 6% fewer students receiving grant aid, 4% fewer first generation college students, and 3% fewer black students, as well as smaller percentages of students from everywhere outside of New England than the previous year’s class. (Citation)
Will our own WSA follow suit?
Last week, the student government of UC Irvine (the equivalent of Weslayan’s WSA) unanimously passed a resolution supporting divestment from all companies that support the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The move came amidst the ongoing U.S.-backed bombardment of civilians in the Gaza Strip. According to news reports, the attacks have claimed the lives 95 Palestinians in the past week, including at least twelve children and a pregnant mother.
The UC Irvine resolution (which is fairly short; I encourage folks to read in full) is part of a growing international solidarity movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS for short) which seeks to withdraw support and legitimacy from the Israeli occupation, much like the divestment campaign that eventually led to the downfall of the apartheid government in South Africa in the 1990s, of which college campuses and the student movement were an integral part.
Similar resolutions have been passed or proposed on campuses across the U.S., and the campaign was even discussed at Wes during Thursday’s panel with leading independent Israeli journalists. Progressive blogger Noam Sheizaf threw in his support: