Last week, the American University in Cairo’s faculty senate reconvened to discuss the possibility of academic exchanges with Israeli universities. AUC President David Arnold, who has refused to take a stand for academic freedom and defend these proposed exchanges, has now offered an official excuse to forestall any resolution that would open the campus to Israeli academics: security concerns. “My opinion is that it will be ill-advised and unwise for the senate to adopt a formal resolution dealing with cooperation with Israeli universities and research institutions,” Arnold said. Provost Tim Sullivan was more blunt, saying that AUC has to uphold “the high principle of security.”
But security from whom? The AUC campus, where I studied last year, is remarkably safe—its gates are protected 24 hours a day by security patrols, with bags and ID’s checked at every entrance. Moreover, little of what happens on campus permeates beyond these gates, as the Western dress of many female AUC students is rarely otherwise seen on the surrounding streets. Finally, AUC currently is situated in one of the most heavily policed—and thus safest—parts of Cairo, and will be moving to the outskirts of the city by fall 2008—where it will be even more insulated from those who might wish to do Israeli visitors harm.
Indeed, one is forced to wonder whether the “security concerns” to which AUC’s leadership alludes exist within AUC itself. As I reported two weeks ago, AUC students—outraged by the prospect of exchanges with Israelis—have threatened to hold strikes and sit-ins should Israelis be permitted on campus. On most campuses, the cancellation of proposed academic activities due to real security concerns might raise the alarm of students. Not so at AUC, however, where one active alumnus called Arnold’s decision a “win-win situation.” Meanwhile, another student deplored that AUC did not take a more explicitly political stance against exchanges with Israelis, saying that, “They have no right to say that AUC is only an academic institution.”
The facts of this case indicate that President Arnold is less motivated by “security concerns” than by a fear of challenging large segments of his student body. His American patrons need to call him on this shortcoming. If AUC is to serve its declared mission of fostering “freedom of expression” and “the exchange of ideas on campus,” its President must be the first to stand for these principles, leaving matters of security to his guards.