SBFA Executive Board Letter to Chancellor Yang on AAA Controversy



Dear Chancellor Yang,
As has our colleague (and former president of the Faculty Association), Claudio Fogu, we are writing to express our concern over your signing—along with the nine other UC Chancellors—a letter drafted by UC President Janet Napolitano, dated April 19, 2016, urging members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) not to ratify a proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.   We are fully aware of the fact that along with many other universities, the University of California, in the person of its president (Rule 1300), has already expressed its opposition to “academic boycotts” in the past, and has the right to do so.   We question, however, the inclusion of Chancellors in signing this letter, the lack of any consultation with UC faculty about its content and/or the wisdom of sending it, and, most importantly, the timing of it.
If rule 1300 does give our President the right “to speak for the University,” this right comes to her from the Regents, and it presumably refers to all matters of administrative and public representation of the University as an institution. On the other hand, the University of California also has a long-standing tradition and commitment to shared governance especially when it comes to questions impacting academic matters. The two principles are clearly at odds with each other and it is therefore a delicate matter of interpretation and political acumen for a President to decide when it is appropriate to speak on behalf of the University. The fact that President Napolitano asked all ten Chancellors to sign her letter indicates in our minds that she was not certain of having the authority to send that letter and therefore sought to buttress her right by involving the Chancellors. At a time in which shared governance has been eroded for several years in the system, it is particularly disturbing to witness this instrumental use of authority and lack of consultation with UC Senates and faculty on matters of great concern to the faculty.
We are not referring to the actual merits of the academic boycott under consideration by members of the AAA, but to the very serious interference with the voting of a resolution by members of a scholarly association who are employed or may be employed by our university. It is one thing to speak for or against resolutions taken by scholarly associations in favor of the academic boycott of Israeli Universities, as was the case with the American Studies Association in 2013. The protest came after the vote had taken place, and, whether one agrees with it or not, it did not interfere with the actual voting procedures.  But to send a letter that explicitly claims that “the University of California believes that an academic boycott is an inappropriate response to a foreign policy issue and one that threatens academic freedom and sets a damaging precedent for academia,” and therefore “urge(s) Association members to consider the boycott’s potentially harmful impacts and oppose this resolution,” not only misrepresents the percentage of UC-system scholars who support the boycott but also is a far cry from the right to public critique and the defense of academic freedom invoked in the letter. For an institution that hires the members of an association to urge them to vote one way or another is at best interference and, at worst, intimidation.
With all due respect we ask that you will consider consulting at least with the head of the Academic Senate the next time that you are invited by UCOP to sign a letter on behalf of UC Santa Barbara.

Sincerely,

SB Faculty Association Board
Julie Carlson (President)
Jorge Castillo
Nelson Lichtenstein
Constance Penley
Erika Rappaport
Elisabeth Weber
Robert Williams