The British University and College Union (UCU) voted in May to consider a boycott of Israeli universities because of that nation’s treatment of Palestinians.
It was a move that Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba, along with 300 other U.S. college presidents, denounced.
“We oppose the British boycott,” Votruba said. “It undermines the very nature of a college.”
To this end, the universities have declared to the U.K. universities that, according to an American Jewish Committee press release, “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!”
The UCU, which is the world’s largest academic labor union and the representative of more than 120,000 university staffers, sent out a letter to its member schools that mandates that the debate be “fair and even-handed,” and that both Israeli and Palestinian scholarly representatives be present at the discussions. Some UCU academicians seek to pressure Israel, which has often been accused of human rights violations toward Palestinians, into improving its treatment of Palestinians.
Votruba, however, said the problem doesn’t lie in the target of the proposed boycott. “Universities should not get caught up in the conflicts between nation states,” he said, adding that he doesn’t endorse any politicians because schools should avoid taking sides in the political arena.
“We work with whoever is elected,” Votruba said.
J. Sam Frankel, president of NKU’s former Jewish Student Organization, said that he supports Votruba’s position, although he understands why the British universities are considering the academic embargo.
He nevertheless said Votruba was right to stand against the decision.
“The boycott shows how the world has been close-minded toward the Middle East,” Frankel said. “Israel is our biggest ally over there.”
Votruba said he doesn’t see the U.K. universities boycotting the U.S. colleges, whatever they may decide about Israel.
“Our two systems are too closely intertwined,” he said. “There is so much interaction.”
He said students should not worry about being barred from studying in the United Kingdom.
University of Cincinnati President Nancy Zimpher and Xavier University President Michael Graham have also added their names to the list.
The American Jewish Committee published an ad in The New York Times Aug. 8 that listed the U.S. signatories.
A complete list of participating universities can be found at the AJC’s Web site, www.ajc.org.