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President Reif issues statement on ASA boycott of Israeli academic institutions

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Today, MIT President L. Rafael Reif issued the following statement concerning the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

On Dec. 16, 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. MIT is not a member of the ASA and has no connection to this boycott. The concept of an academic boycott is antithetical to MIT values. It fundamentally violates the principles of academic freedom that are central to the excellence of MIT and American higher education.

MIT is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which on Dec. 20 issued the following public statement:

    “The Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Three U.S. scholarly organizations have now expressed support for such a boycott. Any such boycott of academic institutions directly violates academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of AAU universities and of American higher education in general.  Academic freedom is the freedom of university faculty responsibly to produce and disseminate knowledge through research, teaching, and service, without undue constraint. It is a principle that should not be abridged by political considerations. American colleges and universities, as well as like institutions elsewhere, must stand as the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom. Efforts to address political issues, or to address restrictions on academic freedom, should not themselves infringe upon academic freedom. Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it. We urge American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts.”

At MIT, our mission directs us to advance knowledge and educate students in service to the world. We best serve this mission through our longstanding practice of fostering active engagement with international academic institutions and open dialog among people from all nations. Just as MIT faculty engage extensively with colleagues around the world, we encourage our students to broaden and deepen their thinking through experiences across the globe.

Our MISTI program immerses students in the work cultures of other nations (18 at present, including Israel) through intensive internships. This strategy of active engagement and open dialog also inspires MIT students, faculty, and alumni who participate in MEET, the Middle East Education through Technology program, which teaches advanced computer skills to Palestinian and Israel youth side-by-side and gives these students the shared experience of solving complex problems in teams: this can help prepare them to be leaders together in the future.

As a community of scholars and educators, we are best equipped to fight for intellectual freedom with the tools of openness and outreach.

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