The ASA Westin Two-Step

Note: A recent bout of comment spam has caused me to turn my troublesome spam block back on.  If anyone is trying to post legitimate comment and is having trouble with the CAPTCHA code, send them to me and I’ll post them directly.

Well the doofuses who run the American Studies Association (ASA) have found themselves in a conundrum that even those of us without PhDs could have anticipated.

I won’t rehash the whole sordid tale whereby the leadership of that organization, hell-bent on passing an academic boycott resolution directed at one nation and one nation only (guess which one), won a “landslide” victory (consisting of 16% of the membership) after the most lopsided faux-debate in the history of academia.

Almost immediately, their action was condemned by (among others) the American Studies Association’s own largest branches, American Studies Departments across the country (many of whom left ASA in protest), hundreds of college and university Presidents, and the largest academic associations in the country.

Initial attempts to explain their position (notably the statement by former ASA Presidnt Curtis “One has to start somewhere” Marez) were so embarrassing that the group’s leaders decided to “go to ground” and stop giving interviews (strange given that the justification for their boycott was to “open up conversation”).

Now their disappearance was not total.  For instance, when current ASA Prez Lisa Duggan thought she was talking solely to fellow BDS activists, she squealed like a schoolgirl over the chance to spend a weekend with like-minded partisans.  But, other than that, her communication to the world seems to have consisted primarily in situations that don’t allow for cross-examination.

This includes occasional one-time posting in the comments section of various web sites.  For instance, she recently commented on this story, one which describes how the hotel where ASA is planning its upcoming convention is being asked to confirm that they are not hosting a meeting that is in violation of California’s anti-discrimination law.  Apparently, that state has some pretty strict guidelines about events that discriminate by (among other things) national origin.  And so the entire ASA leadership team has had to double down on its whole “we’re not discriminating against individuals (like Israelis, although just the Jewish ones), we’re just targeting institutions” gambit.

As my regular reader knows, using legislatures and courts to win BDS battles is not my strategy of choice, especially if it drags a third party (in this case, the Westin Hotel) in the middle of someone else’s conflict.  But now that someone who doesn’t share this philosophy has raised the stakes over ASA’s BDS vote, it’s intriguing to watch the increasingly frantic dance those boycotters are breaking into in order to avoid any consequences related to the choice they forced onto the organization.

According to the story linked above, the original description of ASA policy was amended in recent days to try to bolster the “we’re only discriminating against institutions, not actual people” storyline (although, like most last-minute broomers, they missed a few files and forgot about the existence of screen-grabs and Internet caches). Meanwhile, leaders of the organization have taken to the airwaves demanding that any other possible interpretation of their policy is a lie that must be retracted.

Why a policy whose description ASA itself has had to amend has only one possible interpretation is unclear to me.  And their claim that even the Israeli Prime Minister could attend their event (so long as he only did so as “Mr. Netenyahu”) seems to indicate that any Israeli scholar who insists on representing their institution of learning (or anyone or anything other than themselves) would be discriminated against (vs., say, a professor from Fudan or Birzeit universities attending as representatives of those institutions).

Given that no American Studies department in the entire country has actually implemented the ASA’s boycott policy, and (as mentioned earlier) the organization’s largest chapters had rejected it, there seems to be no possible place for Lisa Duggan and her colleagues to put into practice the policy they insisted be the law of the organization except at their own events and programs (including their annual conference).  But, at least from we’ve seen unfold in the last few days, it looks like those bold defenders of the BDS cause cannot bring themselves to even take action there (or even explain what implementation of their policy would look like).

In other words (and as many of us knew when the vote was first taken), it’s all pose and no action by a group of “leaders” who are BDS activists first, academics second, desperate to give their prime consistency (fellow BDSers, not American Studies professors) something to brag about.

In my own comment on one of these stories (a reply to Lisa Duggan, as it happens), I pointed out that if Westin Hotel does indeed refuse to host ASA’s annual event, that the people who would have attended this year’s conference are completely free to register at the hotel as individuals and the ASA leadership team is free to hold the meetings they planned at various libraries and restaurants in the area near the Westin.  Under this scenario, the hotel chain would be simply following the rules outlined by the American Studies Association itself and shunning ASA as an institution while welcoming them as individual human beings.

We’ll see if Professor Duggan is ready to apply such a distinction to the institution she runs vs. those she is so desperate to have others shun.

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