UCU and institutions that boycott

On the University and College Union‘s Activists List, Harry Goldstein (UCL) responds to boycotters’ defence of Norway’s University of Bergen for giving official consideration to an institution-wide boycott of Israel:

xxxx, I think you and xxxx are both being disingenuous.

What would it mean for an institution to ‘take a stance’ on this issue?

Would it (a) mean that the institution bans its employees from making an academic judgement to collaborate with Israeli academics? In which case would the academics be vulnerable to disciplinary action for breaches of this ban? And if this were the case, would UCU support the academic’s freedom to make an academic judgement, or would it support management’s right to override that judgement and punish the academic for making it?

Would it (b) mean that the institution merely ‘suggests’ that such collaborations would be frowned on? In this case would UCU support any academic concerned that their career prospects might suffer if they ignored such ‘suggestions’, as clearly any such detriment to career prospects would amount to victimisation?

Would it (c) mean that the institution encouraged demonstrations or other hostility against the ‘offending’ academic? If this is so, it would amount to intimidation by management of an academic/employee going about his or her legitimate work.

If it meant none of the above, then it is hard to know what such a stance could possibly mean.

It’s really not good enough to say that they’re only having the debate. UCU is not usually so laid back about management ‘merely’ discussing things. For example, discussing attacks on employment security, pay and conditions, etc.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that you are happy for management to attack their employees’ academic freedom provided it is in pursuit of one of your own pet causes.

We will remember this next time you complain about the (alleged) pressures on dissenting Israeli academics.

Reproduced with the author’s permission.

5 Responses to “UCU and institutions that boycott”

  1. Bill Says:

    Goldstein raises very good questions — each with the central thesis of what happens when you make your personal boycott one that all must recognize — as the UCU wants — and what it takes to make that really happen. Presumably as we’ve been told, the UCU wants it to be handled first as UCU policy, but said UCU stance would then turn the university neck via campus culture.

    With Bergen, the middleman is removed, and Bergen then can become the local enforcing agent of boycotters’ whims. And by doing so, we have an open attack on everything that a union (especially one that values academic freedom) should value. But at the end of the day, this is what the boycotters want. What’s the point of a closet or vanity boycott without the ability to make it stick? And you can’t make it stick if they sack you for it for discrimination and harassment, or if your colleagues blow off your big-picture plans by working with Israelis. The only way for such a boycott to stick would be for the university, not the union, to have your back — by wielding the power to evaluate people down (b), to forbid interaction as orders from the top (a), and to empower those in various campus choke points to make their boycott of one, a boycott for all (c) by overt and petty means.

    I look forward to seeing the answer to those three questions. Don’t you?

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Of course, translating the Bergen situation to the UK (or at least England & Wales) assumes that the various RR Acts wouldn’t be brought into play and aimed at the institutions (like universities) promoting such a boycott. In practice, we know very well that university managements are _never_ going to back a boycott. They’re more likely to use the attempt by uni. employees to operationalise a boycott as an excuse to discipline and fire activist employees, let alone as an excuse to de-recognise the union.

    Far from being a boycotters dream scenario, they should wake up to the reality that, by ignoring the day-to-day concerns and needs of their members (like pay and conditions), the crazed far-left leadership risks sacrificing their positions of power. As I’ve already said (from the safety of retirement) if only it wouldn’t wreck the genuine hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of UCU members – as well as leaving them unprotected from management – I’d be in there yelling “bring it on”.

    Does Engage have any Norwegian readers who could let us know what the law is in regard to this situation in Norway? Does Norway have the equivalent of the UK’s Race Relations Acts? And did the prevu=ious efforts at passng boycott resolutions result in an _increase_ in the sale of Israeli goods in Norway of the order of 25%, as reported?

    • Bill Says:

      Trouble is you can bet that they have their own version of the RRA and Title VII. But every box has it’s corners where you can slide in the grout and mildew. And universities may have more of a fig leaf, albeit temporarily, to better find, fill and guard those corners than a union. It may be and probably is illegal, but between implementation and legal action, damage can be done and some things can be hard to extricate from university culture. (E.g., US speech codes are illegal, having never survived a single court challenge, but they remain in force). That is, if the university is talking about this in good faith, rather than talking it, and the would-be boycotters, into the ground. And if it’s the latter, then they’re being coy about it – our HR diva would be swinging her clue bat around our heads at this juncture if this were being done here.

  3. zkharya Says:

    Most academics that have relations with Israeli, in science or the humanities will probably continue to do so. For scientists and engineers, Israel is too valuable. Likewise for those in Jewish and some other branches of history, especially ancient history and archeology.

    The only way the UCU-SWP exec could make it ‘bite’ is by banning even these relations.

  4. zkharya Says:

    Are the UCU-SWP Exec and their boycot constituency especially well represented in the fields most pertinent to Israel?


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