San Francisco State University is firmly committed to free speech and responsible discourse. It is not unusual for a speaker, faculty member or student group to make statements with which others disagree, and we have seen our fair share of divisive speakers advocating a host of perspectives. The University emphatically supports and endorses the rights of all speakers—but not necessarily their words. While it is rare for me to comment on any specific speaker or perspective advocated in a speech on campus, I am told that a November 3 event sponsored by students called for an academic and cultural boycott of one nation, Israel. Such a campaign to limit others’ speech and rein in the free exchange of ideas runs counter to all that SF State stands for, and I must therefore share my concerns.
Academic boycotts are deeply wrong — and deeply dangerous. I have made my position on the proposed Israeli boycott publicly clear. Two years ago, when an attempt to mount this academic boycott appeared to be gathering strength. I endorsed the strong statement against it made by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. My endorsement, and that of a number of other college and university presidents, ran as a full page ad in The New York Times. I signed on because I agree wholeheartedly with every word of President Bollinger’s statement. As he noted, an academic boycott “threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.” An academic boycott is a wrongheaded tactic that diminishes any institution that would pursue it. It is antithetical to this University’s values of inclusion and mutual respect.
Instead, this university celebrates the free exchange of ideas. We believe that what makes us great is our commitment to listening to — though perhaps not agreeing with — one another. Sometimes we reach consensus; other times, we come away better understanding another perspective or better able to weigh the relative merits of opposing viewpoints. An academic boycott is anathema to such civil discourse. It undermines the critically important role that academia has to play in framing issues, providing context, and focusing debate.
I would not silence boycott proponents, nor would I allow them to silence others. As a marketplace of ideas, SF State will continue to serve as a venue for those with ideas that may be embraced, despised or ridiculed. The audience must consider the relative merits of their perspectives. Like any speaker on our campus, I am entitled to assert my convictions and on this one I am quite clear: all voices — irrespective of nation of origin — will continue to have a place to be heard at SF State.
Robert A. Corrigan, president