Guest column by Michale Goldberger | Action for academic freedom

Continuing to support ASA conferences undermines our University’s support of pursuing education

· February 26, 2014, 6:19 pm   ·  Updated February 27, 2014, 1:28 pm

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To the administration,

I am pro ud to be a student at the University of Pennsylvania. I am proud that my esteemed university publicly denounced the boycott of Israeli Universities by the American Studies Association (ASA) as an affront to educational freedom. Yet, Penn is a university of more than words, and thus, I encourage you to take more action in this situation.

This past December, the ASA came out with a statement boycotting Israeli academic institutions on the grounds that such action supports social justice and denounces discrimination. However, the boycott actually suppresses academic freedom by excluding an academic group based upon an arbitrary political standard that is not consistently applied. Despite the fact that Penn denounced the boycott, University funds are still being used to cover travel costs to ASA conferences. Due to the University’s leading role amongst academic institutions, it is necessary that Penn remove itself from the ASA, lest we undermine our value of academic freedom.

The ASA’s boycott undermines the pursuit of education by limiting academic freedom, and therefore, by continuing to support the ASA, Penn is directly opposing its academic purpose by being part of the ASA. The ASA’s mission states: “The American Studies Association is the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.”

However, the boycott itself supports the Boycott,  Divestment and  Sanctions movement, thus highlighting its political, not academic, nature. This incongruity between the ASA’s stated purpose and realized actions should not be ignored because it undermines Penn’s academic reason for being a part of the ASA. President Gutmann’s statement demonstrates that Penn’s pursuit of academic freedom aligns strongly with the ASA’s stated goals, but diverges sharply from their actions. Continuing to support ASA conferences undermines our University’s support of pursuing education.

I recently read a powerful article written by two Harvard students, urging their university to withdraw from the American Studies Association . As leaders in the academic community, we must address this issue too. Actions speak louder than words. Therefore, it is difficult for me to reconcile the fact that our university, which holds such a clear position on this issue, is not leading academic institutions in acting upon our beliefs. For two months, we have watched as other universities , including Brandeis University and Penn State University at Harrisburg among others, withdrew their membership from the ASA. We need to be among them. I would expect nothing less from a leading institution such as Penn.

As students, one of the most important lessons for us to learn is that in life, we can make as many statements as we want and denounce all wrong in the world, but the only way to accomplish anything is through action.

As our own founder Benjamin Franklin stated, “Words may show a man’s wit but actions his meaning.” We, the student body, are young and easily influenced by the way we perceive the University. Penn is an academic leader, founded on age-old values that we continue to represent.

Thus, I appeal to the University to recognize the power you have to educate us both inside and outside the classroom. Show us how to be men and women who act on our values!

Thank you for your time and understanding.

Michale GoldBerger is a sophomore in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology. She can be reached at michale25@gmail.com.

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