Commentary Magazine


Academic Mobbery

The students at American University in Cairo (AUC), where I studied last year, are furious. Last week, a rumor spread via Facebook that “The AUC administration has decided to start open relations with academic circles in the Israeli state, despite the general boycott of Israeli academics that exists in Egypt until today.” In protest, students disrupted the faculty senate’s November 1 meeting, forcing its adjournment. This soon became national news.

But was the faculty actually discussing opening exchanges with Israeli academics and universities? Even Walid Kazziha, chair of the Political Science Department and a vocal opponent of these allegedly proposed exchanges, wasn’t sure. “It became an issue when, in summer 2006, a conference was held at AUC which was attended by several Israeli teachers,” he said in a phone interview. “Since then, there were no further contacts as far as I know.” Meanwhile, AUC has refused to answer whether academic exchanges with Israel are even being considered on any official level, releasing this ambiguous statement:

…. In the spirit of free and open debate on issues of academic governance, the administration welcomes the discussions now taking place within the AUC community regarding academic cooperation with scholars and universities in other countries, including Israel. The administration views this as an on-going discussion and looks forward to continuing to work with the faculty senate in addressing this and other issues.

This is hardly the first time that rumors of exchanges with Israel have surfaced at AUC. Back in June 2007, the Office of Communications and Marketing frantically dashed this e-mail off to students:

The American University in Cairo would like to state that it has made no invitation to the Israeli ambassador in Egypt to attend any of its upcoming events. Recent news reports claiming that it has invited the ambassador to attend a forum at the university are completely false.

At the time, AUC President David Arnold conceded to the mob. “In deciding whether to sponsor or host international seminars, public lectures, or conferences that could include Israeli participants or attendees,” he said, “the university has exercised discretion on a case-by-case basis, taking local conditions and campus safety factors into account.”

Now that the issue has resurfaced, perhaps Arnold will recognize that he has a teachable moment on his hands. It’s high time for him to fulfill AUC’s own declared mission of promoting “the ideals of an American liberal-arts education” and encouraging “the exchange of ideas,” rather than conceding weakly to “local conditions”—i.e., hatred for Israel.

Should Israelis come to AUC, students have vowed to hold strikes and sit-ins. In the meantime, they are pushing for a written policy banning Israelis from campus. This sort of exclusionary behavior is simply below any university that claims to be inspired by American ideals. President Arnold, who has dedicated his career to promoting intercultural academic exchange, needs to say so.