University President Mary Sue Coleman and former University presidents Lee Bollinger and Harold Shapiro, along with presidents of other American colleges, endorsed an advertisement that appeared in the New York Times on Aug. 8 that argued against the United Kingdom’s University and College Union’s proposed boycott of Israeli universities.
The UCU, which has about 120,000 members, passed a resolution 158 to 99 in May that supported a boycott of Israeli universities. Some union members who are unhappy with Israel’s policies concerning relations with Palestine advocated the resolution.
Bollinger, who is now president of Columbia University, criticized the UCU’s decision in a statement entitled, “Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours, Too!” that was featured in the full-page advertisement. The advertisement listed about 300 names of presidents of higher education institutions who support Bollinger’s statement.
Robert Hornsby, Columbia’s director of media relations, said in an e-mail that Bollinger originally issued the statement featured in the advertisement on June 12.
In his statement, Bollinger challenged the UCU to consider the effect a boycott would have on colleges.
“If the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish,” Bollinger’s statement said.
Coleman first made public her position on the issue in July when she published a statement similar to Bollinger’s on the University website.
“At the University of Michigan, we have many valued connections with colleagues in Israel, and I for one am prepared to stand in solidarity with Israeli academics in the face of a boycott, should it come to pass,” Coleman’s statement said. “It is in the nature of academic boycotts directly to impede academic freedom and the intellectual discourse that are at the heart of our mission in higher education.”
Several prominent universities’ names did not appear in the advertisement, including Harvard University, Yale University and the University of Chicago.
University of Chicago spokeswoman Julie Peterson said in an e-mail that University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer sent his own letter to Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU, on July 31.
“President Zimmer believed he could be most effective by articulating his position directly to the UCU,” Peterson said.
Representatives from Harvard and Yale could not be reached for comment.
Coleman’s statement said that the Association of American Universities, a group of 62 research universities in the U.S. and Canada to which the University of Michigan belongs, also opposes the boycott.