Professors Spar With NYU Over Self-Expression on BDS

Students, professors and administrators react after the university released a statement about the 30-club boycott of NYU Tel Aviv.


Sayer Devlin

President Andy Hamilton delivered a remark before the [email protected] results presentation on April 24 in Kimmel Rosenthal.

Victor Porcelli , Deputy News Editor

NYU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors came out in support of University of Michigan academics who have declined to write letters of recommendation to students applying to Israeli universities in protest of the country, stating that they would expect NYU to respect their right to do the same.

After the Israeli government issued a ban in January on supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, clubs like Jewish Voices for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine took action, with 50 clubs stating their support for the BDS movement and student government passing a resolution calling for greater transparency concerning NYU Tel Aviv. The latest protest effort by students has involved pledging non-cooperation with NYU Tel Aviv for its supposed discrimination against activists and Palestinian and Muslim students. As part of the same BDS movement, professor John Cheney-Lippold and teaching assistant Lucy Peterson from the University of Michigan refused to write letters of recommendation to students applying to universities in Israel.

NYU’s chapter of the AAUP has come out in support of Cheney-Lippold and Peterson, sending an email to NYU’s President Andrew Hamilton.

“We are professionals, not service providers, and we are guided by the ethics of the academic profession in our actions and decisions,” the email said. “We would expect the administration to respect that right if NYU faculty and instructors followed their conscience in a similar way.”

NYU’s AAUP said they would support any NYU faculty or instructors who decided to not cooperate with NYU Tel Aviv.

“Any branch of NYU that operates in the shadow of discrimination and racial profiling tarnishes the name and reputation of this university,” they said. “We call on the administration to address this violation of institutional principle.”

However, in his statement responding to the boycott by student groups, NYU spokesperson John Beckman expressed disagreement with the protesting of NYU’s study abroad site.

“Contrary to the students’ belief, it is an academic boycott that violates the tenets of academic freedom, as the national [American Association of University Professors ] itself has declared,” Beckman said, referencing a statement made by the AAUP in 2005.

On the events in Michigan, Beckman said they “have nothing to do with NYU” and noted that a former head of the AAUP opposed withholding recommendations for such reasons. Despite citing the national AAUP and its former head, Beckman did not mention NYU’s chapter of the organization or the Graduate Student Union of NYU, which previously endorsed the BDS movement in 2016 — to the disdain of President Hamilton — and also spoke out in support of the Michigan academics.

In response to Beckman’s statement, organizer for SJP and JVP Michael Bearman said he was unhappy with the university’s response.

“It’s disappointing yet expected that the NYU administration once again remains complicit in Israeli occupation of Palestine,” Bearman said in an email to WSN. “The state of Israel has made it clear that they are not a place in which people can exercise freedom of speech.”

However, some students appreciated the sentiment expressed by Beckman. NYU TorchPAC is a Jewish group on campus whose members have decried the BDS movement for supposedly hurting the very people it is trying to help, among other things. The groups’ president, Rebecca Stern, was comforted by NYU’s statement.

“Academic freedom is important to any University setting,” Stern said. “I am pleased to know that NYU upholds these values and supports an open learning environment.”

Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected]