The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
The New York Senate has passed Assembly Bill A.8392 to cut off state aid to any academic organization that supports a boycott. As the NYU AAUP noted, “Elected officials are seeking to use their fiscal powers to limit the range of academic expression simply because they disagree with its content. Passing this legislation would set a very dangerous precedent, reminiscent, for many of us, of the loyalty oaths of the McCarthy era.”
The New York state AAUP declared, “we are united in opposition to the proposed legislation (A.8392). As advocates for academic freedom, we see this bill as an impediment to participation in professional and scholarly organizations. The ASA resolution has been, and will continue to be, debated vigorously among university administrators and others in positions of academic leadership.” And the national AAUP spoke out against the law, noting that “it would impose a political litmus test on faculty members seeking university support for research meetings and travel.”
It is frightening that an attack on academic freedom such as this bill would pass the New York Senate by a vote of 51-4. It bans not only direct funding by a college of any scholarly group passing a boycott resolution, but also any funding of travel and lodging by someone to attend that group’s events (even when none of the money would go to the organization).
The penalty applies to both public and private colleges, and it bans all state funding for the academic year, if even one dollar pays for a professor to attend a conference of a disfavored organization. The penalty also applies retroactively, so that if a state dollar accidentally funded travel to a banned conference in May, the college would lose all state funding for the entire academic year in which it occurred.
The New York law is so badly written that the intended target of it, groups who call for a boycott of Israel, are clearly exempt under the law’s provision when a boycott is for “the purpose of protesting unlawful discriminatory practices,” which the Israel boycotts obviously fall under.
But the law has a very broad application. It covers any “resolution” supporting a boycott, even if there is no action, and even if it is only support for an economic boycott and not an academic boycott.
The badly written law also applies to a boycott of colleges in America, since it includes any boycott of “higher education institutions located in countries, that host higher education institutions chartered by the Board of Regents.”
So, the law would most clearly apply to the AAUP, since its censure list is, arguably, a form of boycott of colleges in America. It could also apply to any academic organization that urges a boycott of diploma mills, since these are higher education institutions.
Most alarming of all, the law sets no time limits on these resolutions. The standard is simply “has issued a public resolution.” The law also offers no way for an organization to remove itself from the prohibition list. So, if the ASA passed a resolution completely repudiating the boycott and rescinding its previous stand, the ASA would still be banned because it still “has issued a public resolution” in the past against Israel. In fact, if a scholarly organization during World War II passed a resolution calling for a boycott of Nazi universities, then the New York law would permanently prohibit funding of travel to that group’s events.
And since no one knows which organization “has issued a public resolution” for a boycott at any point in its history, all colleges in New York would have to respond to this law by banning state funds for any scholarly groups (including any groups meeting on New York campuses) or for any travel to conferences of any kind.
Of course, even if the proposed New York law had not been incompetently drafted, and actually had targeted critics of Israel as legislators apparently intended, it would remain an attack on academic freedom. Legislators have no absolutely business attempting to ban incidental state funds for anyone in order to silence freedom of speech. It is an attack on the First Amendment, and contrary to the fundamental principles of liberty.