My brother asked me to post this question. Leaders in corporations and in state governments (including Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York) are beginning to turn the screws on North Carolina in the wake of that state legislation’s controversial bill striking down protections for LGBT citizens. Actions include restricting all unnecessary business in and business travel to the state until this mess gets cleared up. It comes down to boycotting the State of North Carolina, or at least pretty close to it. Now compare this leadership from corporate America and from political bigwigs to the silence from university administrators and faculty. Beyond words, there has been no call to boycott universities and colleges in North Carolina, no call to cancel events such as conferences and symposia, or other visits to the state. In the face of discrimination, academics allow each other, their friends and colleagues, this free pass.
And what about the academic left? Beyond the expression of outrage and solidarity, what do faculty plan to do in terms of concrete action? The very same faculty members and members of academic associations prepared to boycott Israeli universities and colleagues are among the very ones who went to the mat against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in support of Steven Salaita’s case against the administration. Salaita was ultimately denied a position there for reasons having largely to do with abusive speech on Twitter. Faculty across the humanities rallied bravely to his defense, and to the defense of academic freedom. In Urbana-Champaign, all dealings with the university, including university departments and committees were suspended, causing massive disruptions to the life of the university and its activities. Will these same colleagues ready to boycott Israel not stand up for LGBT rights in their own country, in North Carolina, or is going to be business as usual for the academic left?
Turn down an invitation to Duke? Cut off colleagues from Chapel Hill? My own thoughts about academic boycotts are more ambivalent than those of my brother. He holds academe in nothing but contempt, whereas I am not sure I’m ready to venture an opinion. But he’s right to draw this comparison between corporate leadership in the business world versus university administrators and faculty. It turns out that sometimes the university is a more conservative place than a large corporation.