The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has issued a statement (below) in opposition to state legislative proposals (HB 998 and SB 647) that would “penalize professional associations and their members for engaging in protected political activity,” according to NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin.

The statement, which was sent to members of the Maryland state legislature, calls the bills “constitutionally flawed” and “ill-conceived.” They were proposed in response to a recent decision by the American Studies Association (ASA) and other professional associations endorsing a limited boycott of Israeli universities to protest certain policies of the Israeli government.

Citing precedents set by numerous Supreme Court decisions, the statement points out that “state universities are free to allocate funds for research and travel based on academic merit, [but] they are not free to pick and choose which activities to support based on the political views or positions of sponsoring organizations.” The Court held in Rosenberger v. University of Virginia that when state universities support “private speakers who convey their own messages,” they may not “silence the expression of selected viewpoints.”

The proposals also run afoul of Supreme Court law rejecting even “subtle governmental interference” with protected political speech and activities, including the denial of funding or recognition to groups or individuals espousing unpopular political opinions.

AAUP and NCAC are critical of academic boycotts because, unlike economic boycotts, they “strike directly at the free exchange of ideas.” But “two wrongs do not make a right,” said Bertin. Regardless of how one views academic boycotts by private professional organizations, “faculty at state-supported colleges and universities have a constitutionally protected right to express unpopular political views, to associate with like-minded individuals, and to engage in collective political activities.”

“It makes little sense to defend the academic freedom of Palestinian scholars by denying such freedom to Israeli and American scholars via an academic boycott, but it makes even less sense to oppose such a boycott by restricting the academic freedom of scholars who may be members of a professional association that has favored such a boycott,” said Henry Reichman, First Vice-President of AAUP and Chair of its Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.