MLA Members Petition Executive Committee

January 23, 2014
BY Melissa Gerr

After approximately four hours of debate during their annual convention this month in Chicago, members of the Modern Language Association’s delegate assembly completed the first stage in enacting a resolution calling on the State Department to chastise Israel for denying entry permits to U.S. academics invited to Palestinian universities in the West Bank.

The resolution now goes to the academic association’s executive committee for review before a full vote by the MLA membership.

The MLA resolution is rooted in, but not directly connected to, language in last month’s American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel that prompted the presidents of more than 100 academic institutions to publish public statements rejecting the boycott and hundreds of individual academics to come out in favor of it.

Sangeeta Ray, professor of English and comparative literature at University of Maryland, College Park and an MLA member since 1987, attended part of the debate that was held the Saturday afternoon of the conference.

“I’ve seen secondhand the harassment my colleagues have been receiving, like hate mail for supporting the boycott,” said Ray. “And the president of Indiana University revoked ASA membership without even talking to the faculty.”

As a result of the alleged harassment claims, a petition urges the MLA executive committee “to issue a statement against acts of retaliation, intimidation [and] coercion aimed at students, faculty [and] academic organizations because of their political opinions and/
or activism.”

Slightly more than 400 MLA members have signed the petition; it requires 500 signatures before the executive committee can consider the motion. David Palumbo-Liu, a comparative literature professor at Stanford University, authored the petition through the online site change.org. An active proponent of the boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, he blogs for The Boston Review, The Huffington Post and Al Jazeera America.

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