Building Relationships on Campus: The Role of Faculty

Faculty are key stakeholders in the campus community and can, when organized and informed, play critical and key roles in ensuring that the debate on campus remains honest. Faculty are responsible for upholding academic standards on campus and for elevating quality and level of complex discussions on campus, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, among many other issues. Remember also that students and faculty who initiate or support BDS movements on their campus will feel emboldened if they don’t encounter any authoritative opposition from other faculty.

Offer Balanced Courses

Faculty members need to offer balanced and informative courses on their respective campuses about Israel. It is important to realize that the proponents of BDS rely heavily on one form or another of Critical Social Theory (Marxism, Neo-Marxism, post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism) as the basis for their claim. This intellectual tradition is avowedly ideological in character and sees its role as defending the powerless or less powerful. Palestinians have succeeded in making the case that they are in the powerless role here and Israel has power. This is among the important claims that need to be refuted in these courses. Films and simulations can be especially valuable tools in teaching courses about Israel. When appropriate, use examples of Israeli research and comparative aspects of Israeli society in courses across disciplines.

Create a Forum for Balanced Discourse

Faculty can offer public lectures, contribute articles to student and local media, invite speakers, and hold academic events such as conferences. Many departments, especially in Middle East studies, sponsor “academic” conferences that often turn into polemical  anti-Israel events.  Serious scholars can arrange true academic forums that focus a more analytical lens on aspects of Israel and the Middle East. One such conference was organized by the GoldmanVisiting Israeli Professor at Berkeley in spring 2010 and featured several leading scholars  addressing the theme, “Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” a topic that offered a scholarly refutation to the assertion that Israel is an apartheid state.

Promote Israel Studies on Campus

The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) sponsors a visiting Israeli professor program and provides funds to help underwrite the salary and benefits of a visiting Israeli scholar to teach for an academic year. They are required to teach four courses, at least two on modern Israel, and engage in public education outside the classroom. Universities are required to contribute some matching funds. In addition, AICE visiting professors are available for lectures on other campuses. For more information, contact AICE.

Faculty are also encouraged to invite visiting Israeli scholars on their own and to establish programs, chairs and centers for the study of Israel.  The Brandeis Summer Institute for Israel Studies offers an opportunity for scholars in other fields to receive instruction to prepare them to offer courses on Israel.

Another way to advance understanding is to organize trips to Israel for faculty or encourage colleagues to join existing trips. Encourage students to study abroad in Israel or to take advantage of Birthright Israel and other opportunities to travel and study in Israel.

Provide Intellectual Backing for Students Combating BDS

Faculty can also provide the intellectual backing on campus for the effort to refute BDS.  Point out that academic boycotts stifle freedom of speech, freedom of information and academic freedom and have been decried by every major group of scholars, academic unions and academic societies.

The following offer examples of faculty statements on BDS:

Michigan State Jewish Studies Department Statement

UC Irvine Faculty Denounce Hate Speech

Nobel Prize Winners Denounce BDS

Be an Advisor

Faculty can play an important advisory role to student services personnel such as deans of students or directors of Hillel and their staffs. Here the coordination and collaboration with Hillel is especially important so that the right and left hands of this effort operate in tandem. Faculty can speak to and mentor students and staff to help them understand the complexities of the situation and to provide them with the intellectual tools and information to respond. Faculty can also help them interpret what is going on in ways that bolster their willingness to continue in this struggle and not despair or give up the fight, certainly not to be convinced by the illogical and hateful arguments of BDS proponents.

Be a Symbol of Support

Faculty serve a vitally important symbolic function. At the end of the day, students come to universities to study with professors, and are willing to be influenced by them. In the words of one Berkeley professor, “I cannot tell you how many students thanked me for coming to the public meetings of the ASUC senate even when I did not speak, or asked me why more faculty members did not join me. They saw in my presence moral support and validation of their view, and this also helped them to stay focused on the difficult task ahead, when facing ugliness of the sort they had never seen.” Remember, your anti-Zionist colleagues do not hesitate to enter the political fray, and this can be extremely intimidating for anti-BDS students who do not have faculty behind them. Be prepared to elevate BDS concerns as stakeholders in the academic community to the administration, students and communities in which you live.

Distinguish Academic Freedom and Malpractice

Faculty sometimes use academic freedom as a shield to argue they can say or teach anything they want. Academic standards do exist, however, both at the institutional level and as promulgated by the American Association of University Professors. While faculty are sometimes reluctant to police their colleagues, it is vital that professors who abuse their power by using their classrooms for propaganda purposes, use syllabi that do not meet a minimum standard of scholarly quality and balance or abuse listservs and other means of campus communication should be held accountable.

Other Things Professors Can Do:

1. Be a teacher outside of class to help students understand history and politics as well as the follies of BDS.

2. Engage fellow faculty on a personal basis as well as through faculty bodies such as academic departments.

3. Formulate a policy statement drawing boundaries of legitimate academic debate.

4. Write articles for faculty and student publications.

5. Join SPME and ally with other like-minded faculty among disciplines.

6. Insist on academic rigor and balance when other departments sponsor Middle East events.

7. Respond to lecturers and other campus visitors who abuse academic freedom and spread inaccurate information.

8. Promote Israel Studies: Advocate for courses on Israel as well as for visiting and/or tenure-track Israel studies faculty recruitment.

9. Learn and use academic processes to insist on accountability in classroom and syllabi.

10. Learn, use and help students become aware of and use grievance procedures for both academic and conduct problems.

11. Insist on transparency of program funding.

12. Moderate sessions with students such as a question/issue of the month or create a series of coffee house meetings with students returning from Birthright trips to Israel or meet with students considering a trip to Israel.

13. Offer non-credit classes to students pre/post Birthright.

14. Encourage students to go on Birthright and to study in Israel.