Shift in University’s values over time raises questions

On Dec. 27, 2013, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler issued a statement reacting to the American Studies Association’s call to boycott institutions of higher education in Israel due to the lack of academic freedom for Palestinian students under the Israeli occupation.

Kaler quoted and shared the views of the American Association of University Professors and categorically dismissed any action that undermines academic freedom, implying that the ASA’s boycott is complicit in violating the academic freedom it seeks to fight.

I do not seek to persuade you one way or the other regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. I do, however, wish to note a shift over time in the University’s weighing of social justice versus academic freedom.

In the 1980s, the University of Minnesota joined many institutions to boycott South Africa culturally and academically due to its apartheid laws. The University stood against those policies, even enduring withheld grant opportunities from the FMC Corporation in response to the University’s disinvestment.

It seems that Kaler opposes limitations of academic freedom, such as academic boycotts. Academic boycotts, such as the University’s, played a role in ending apartheid. It follows that Kaler would oppose taking the measures the University did to help end apartheid.

I ask myself, why don’t Kaler and the University seem proud of the role academia played in ending South African apartheid? Until we hear otherwise, it’s possible to conclude that they quietly think it was a misstep in the University’s history.