Last month, my colleague Will Creeley told Torch readers about two disturbing bills introduced in Maryland that would impose 3% budget cuts on institutions of higher education that failed to prohibit funding for faculty members’ travel or membership fees for associations that have passed academic boycotts against countries with which Maryland has ratified a “declaration of cooperation.” Similar legislation was defeated in New York and Illinois, and another similar bill is unfortunately pending in Congress.
The good news is that Maryland’s bills failed after the state’s legislators received opposition to the legislation from a broad coalition of organizations, including the American Association of University Professors, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Defending Dissent Foundation, the Council on Islamic-American Relations, the American-Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League.
Unfortunately, though, the news is not all rosy. While the legislation that would impose a budget penalty on institutions failed, a non-binding resolution that condemns the same academic boycotts (PDF) was inserted into the state budget (PDF).
FIRE has taken the position that academic boycotts violate academic freedom, but so do legislative efforts to bar or otherwise frustrate academics from participating in those boycotts. That said, non-binding resolutions opposing academic boycotts pose a much smaller threat to academic freedom than legislation that actually imposes penalties for institutions that don’t forbid participation in such boycotts. While FIRE would rather legislators get out altogether of the business of intruding into faculty decision-making by injecting their political judgments into the academic arena, we are thankful that the Maryland legislature wisely abandoned the legislation that would have infringed upon academic freedom by penalizing institutions that fail to bend to its will.