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III. Concluding Thoughts 32 Inconclusive, Unscientific Postscript: On the Purpose of the University, and a Ray of Hope Andrew Pessin Andrew Pessin finds a ray of hope in a recent ruling by McGill University’s Judicial Board, finding that BDS resolutions violate its student government’s constitution. This ruling, reminiscent of the University of Chicago’s famous Kalven Report, reminds us what the purpose of universities is and shows how BDS is in essence an attack on the norms of the university itself. Firm conclusions are not yet possible because the battle is far from over. As we mentioned in our introduction to the volume, campus anti-Israelists are in it for the long haul. It remains unclear whether those who do not believe that Israel is an unqualified abomination will be able to stay in it for the long haul as well. It is a hard battle to fight, and the personal costs are great, as our volume has documented . It is easy to understand why so many Jewish students and faculty stay quiet. Their careers may even be at stake. But perhaps there is room for hope, for a remarkable event occurred at the end of May 2016 that just might signify that important change of campus momentum. It happened quietly, but it ought to be loudly disseminated across the Western world, for universities are at the heart of that world. In May 2016, a university’s student government suddenly remembered what the overall purpose of student governments is—which itself ought to remind universities of what their overall purpose is. We return to McGill University. After three Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) failures in the previous couple of years, McGill anti-Israelists finally celebrated when their student government passed a BDS resolution in February 2016.1 The celebrations were short-lived, however, for the student body as a whole failed to ratify that vote just a few days later.2 That’s when things got interesting. The anti-Israelists petitioned the university’s Judicial Board, challenging the technical legality of the ratification process. At the same time, a McGill student, perhaps fed up with the 402 | Andrew Pessin relentless BDS assault on his student government, petitioned the Judicial Board to challenge the very constitutionality of that and any BDS resolution. On May 31, 2016, the Judicial Board at McGill University ruled that student government resolutions affirming BDS against Israel violate the constitution and equity policy of its government, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU).3 That meant that McGill, whose campus had spent several years embroiled in BDS debates, would finally be able to return full-time to its proper business: educating its students. The reasoning in the decision was so clear that it was downright refreshing. In the relevant university mandate documents quoted in their decision, the Judicial Board noted that SSMU’s mission is to “facilitate communication and interaction between all students,” to refrain from discrimination on the basis of “race, national or ethnic origin ... religion,” and to create “an ‘anti-oppressive’ atmosphere where all of its membership feels included.” But, then, the Judicial Board asks, can the SSMU “take an authoritative, direct, and unambiguous stance” against a particular nation, as the recent BDS resolution demands that it do against Israel? Unambiguously, no. A university may well have students from both sides of any given conflict, and “by picking a side ... the government does not promote interactions ... but rather champions one’s cause over another.” Student governments must represent their members, but “it would be absurd for the government to claim that it is representing Israeli members as favorably as other nationals despite it supporting boycotts ... against Israel.” Indeed, by “adopting official positions against certain nations ... SSMU would be placing members from those nations at a structural disadvantage within [the] community,” failing to protect the rights of those minorities from “the tyranny of the majority,” and in violating its “antioppression ” mandate would be failing in “its obligations to its own members.” Or as they put it succinctly: “McGill is first and foremost a university, a place of knowledge and intellectual growth—a fact that is often forgotten.... [Our student government] cannot be the venue for a proxy war.” That all this is so obviously true—that anyone undertaking a neutral approach to designing student governments would concur—makes you wonder why (as the Judicial Board put it) it is so “often forgotten.” I have several hypotheses but will mention just one. For any serious...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253034083
MARC Record
OCLC
1019844795
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-05
Language
English
Open Access
No
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