The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
The attempt to punish academic groups that support a boycott of Israel is growing beyond New York, with a bill introduced in the Maryland legislature.
The AAUP quickly issued a statement condemning these bills: “Legislative interference in academic decision-making and with the freedom of scholars to associate and exchange views with their peers is even more dangerous than the academic boycotts this legislation is intended to oppose. That is because this legislation undermines constitutionally protected academic speech and debate in order to promote a particular viewpoint.”
The AAUP obviously has good reason to be concerned. If legislation so clearly antithetical to academic freedom can be proposed in liberal states like New York and Maryland, sponsored by Democratic representatives, then it’s easy to imagine this crusade to punish critics of Israel spreading nationwide.
The Maryland legislation is similar to the New York bill, but with a few changes that make it less repressive in some ways, and more repressive in others.
The Maryland bill cuts funding for a college by 3% in the year after it violates the rules, unlike New York’s total ban on funding during the year it happens. However, that only makes it more likely that Maryland law would actually be enforced. And the Maryland bill, unlike New York, includes no exemptions for certain kinds of boycotts.
The Maryland bill applies to membership fees and travel expenses to any event held by the banned organization (although, bizarrely, registration fees for conferences are not mentioned, and could be paid for by a university). The Maryland bill is also not limited to state funds (unlike New York’s), and applies to any college funds, even if they come from tuition and fees, or from institutional sources. Whereas New York’s bill is really symbolic (requiring colleges to waste time and money by having travel costs paid out of non-state funds), Maryland’s bill really would require a ban on any funding of travel or membership fees.
The Maryland bill also goes beyond academic boycotts to include support for any kind of boycotts. The bill in section (B) refers only to academic boycotts, but section (C), which is the real enforcement provision, covers any resolution regarding any kind of boycott of a country.
Unlike the New York bill, Maryland’s would only apply boycotts of foreign countries. But like the New York bill, the Maryland bill has no time limits for when an organization “has issued” a resolution. If South Africa or Germany today qualified as a country under its rules, then any organization (such as the AAUP) that passed a resolution supporting an economic boycott of South Africa during apartheid, or that passed a resolution urging a boycott of Germany during World War I or II, would fall under the regulations.