On May 9th, 2016, the University of Indianapolis Board of Trustees and President came together to reach a final decision as to whether or not they wanted to take action and join the BDS movement as an institution. They sent out an email stating this:
Dear University of Indianapolis Faculty, Students and Staff:
The fact that the conversation about BDS has reached our University community is a sign that we are connected to the most pressing issues of our day – and an indication our students care about the human condition around the world. It is also a sign the University is successful in living its mission of preparing our students to be engaged world citizens.
As Trustees, we take great pride in the quality of the debate that occurred on our campus during the past year about this subject. The subject matter of the BDS movement is connected to profound emotional, political, religious and historical questions – questions that often lead to dysfunctional displays of community. The Board noticed the leadership of the University and students as they sought to engage with these issues, and is proud of the way in which the conversations unfolded.
The role of our University is to prepare students to be responsible citizens upon graduation – to teach our students that their skills, values and privileged place in our society must be used to benefit others. We believe that the University must encourage our students to become critical thinkers who can engage with these pressing issues and decide for themselves what course of action could and should be taken. In addition to teaching content – we teach citizenship.
During the past three years, our University has taken specific stands against discrimination, and in support of equality. We have been steadfastly devoted to the notion that one of our most prevalent strengths is our diversity in age, race, ability, sexual orientation, religion, geography and socio-economic status. As Trustees, we also understand our role is to protect these critical parts of our community.
With that as pretext, it is our belief that the University should make definite statements in either support or defiance of issues when such issues meet one of two criteria. First, we believe we should be called to create a statement if an overwhelming majority of our community (faculty, staff, students, alumni) believes there is a topic that should be addressed. Second, we should provide clarity if an issue directly affects the ability for us to carry out our core responsibilities and the mission of the institution.
We want to assure our community that when matters of critical importance are raised, such as social justice issues; and when these matters meet the two conditions listed above; we have established Board procedures to balance the questions of social justice against our fiduciary obligation towards ensuring intergenerational equity of the University. We take this vital responsibility seriously.
The current BDS movement at the University does not meet these criteria. In addition, and like many other institutions of higher education around the country, we believe that boycotts have dramatic and negative effects on academic freedom. The University subscribes to the positions of the Association of American Universities, and the American Association of University Professors regarding academic boycotts. The University has an inherent responsibility to engage societies and faculty/students to enhance understanding through discussion and debate.
We are an institution that was born out of the United Methodist faith tradition. We continue to be closely connected to the Church and inform the spiritual life of our community through this relationship. We are also mindful that, including the Jewish and Islamic faith traditions, there are differing views on these matters within almost every faith group. As the United Methodist Church discerns its approach to the questions raised by the BDS movement, we remain committed to working with them to deepen our collective understandings, and to engaging the differences in approach and opinion that may develop.
We will continue to provide opportunities for our community to learn about the questions raised by these conversations. We will continue to promote engagement between the leading thinkers on both sides of the issue. We will continue to encourage our community members to explore the situation deeply and discern for themselves their sense of truth and appropriate courses of action. For a University to be a true creator of knowledge, and producer of educated citizens, we can do no less.
These issues have been at the front of public policy and political agendas for more than 75 years. Some of the world’s greatest leaders have been unable to solve the issues that exist between Israel and Palestine. We believe our greatest opportunity to create meaningful impact is to engage – not separate – as we seek to learn and understand the struggles that exist in this region of the world. We also believe that our University should continue to engage the questions that are at the heart of this matter, and encourage individual action through education and debate.
Board of Trustees and the President of the University of Indianapolis
To which we responded with:
To President Rob Manuel and the Board of Trustees,
Thank you for your response.
We appreciate you taking the time to clarify a position regarding our call for divestment, and reminding us all of our commitement to intellectual inquiry and the need for action regarding social justice issues.
On behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine and studentswho voiced their opinion and voted in favor of the BDS movement to take place on UIndy’s campus, we would like to notify you that the decision made by the Board of Trustees and President Manuel is troubling in that it prevents us from progressing as a university that stands with oppressed peoples internationally. We invite our campus University to join with our affiliated institution, the United Methodist Church, in adopting the humanitarian call espoused by BDS. There have been many events on campus that were made available to all students, staff, and faculty (even members of the board) to attend in order to be better informed on these issues, and now is the time to act.
To clarify, Students for Justice in Palestine and the student senate did not vote in favor of an “academic boycott” nor call for one. Our resolution calls for the removal of Sabra Hummus from UIndy Dining Services and divestment from six corporations as listed in the Divestment Resolution. Like many other institutions of higher education who voted in favor of the BDS movement, such as Stanford and UCLA, we should join the movement, take action, and divest from companies who stand with Israel and its violation of international laws.
Students care about this issue, have done research and have become informed. Dismissing our decision and insinuating that we are not informed enough is not only insulting but an effort to pass time until we are tired of fighting for what is right. We write to tell you that we are not done. We will continue to educate ourselves and our community and will keep pressing for our call until the Board feels compelled to act.
We will continue to offer educational opportunities on campus next year. We invite you, over the summer, to educate yourself on the calls made in our Divestment Resolution, and the broader principles of the BDS movement in which it is rooted.
Thank you again for the response.