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In May, members of Britain's University and College Union, the country's main faculty union, proposed a boycott of Israeli universities and refusal to cooperate with Israeli academics because of "the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation, which has provoked a call from Palestinian trade unions for a comprehensive and consistent international boycott of all Israeli academic institutions."

Old Dominion University President Roseann Runte sent the following letter to Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union:

Aug. 16, 2007

Dear General Secretary Hunt:

At Old Dominion University we support academic freedom and the international exchange of academic research and teaching. Scholars and ideas must be free to circulate in and among universities as well as around the globe.

We condemn the boycott of Israeli universities by the UK University and College Union. This boycott puts into question the essential liberty of academic discourse and the ability of the British universities to sustain their centuries-old reputation for excellence. Debate must occur both within the institutions and among them. A university which attempts to shut down communication takes the first step toward its own demise.

Universities must promote reasonable, rational thinking as well as the passionate expression of ideas and beliefs. If a university denies those venues to colleagues, then it refuses to listen, to attempt to understand, to work for the common good of all humanity. If a university cuts off communication, then it voluntarily isolates itself. When a university denies its own place in the world, and denies a place within its walls to others, then it is not true to its mission, for the very word university contains its essential element. It must be open to the universe of knowledge, ideas, cultures and peoples. By boycotting Israeli universities, British universities have fabricated an intellectual iron-curtain.

Open minds and the free communication of ideas are essential to mutual understanding and world peace. The free transmission of ideas and scholarship must be a universal value. Failure to respect these freedoms will contribute to intolerance, prejudice and strife. It will destroy the academy. We are certain our British colleagues will, on reflection, reverse their decision to boycott our Israeli colleagues. There are so many problems in the world today, we must, as academics, focus on solving them together.

Sincerely yours,
Roseann Runte

This article was posted on: August 20, 2007

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