Concerns arise over Duthu's appointment as dean of faculty

by Mika Jehoon Lee | 5/12/17 2:10am

Recent discussion regarding Native American studies professor N. Bruce Duthu ’80’s appointment as the next dean of the faculty of arts and sciences has elicited controversy. On May 3, economics professor Alan Gustman sent out a faculty-wide email addressing Duthu’s co-authorship of a 2013 declaration supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. He signed onto the declaration, titled “Declaration of Support for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions,” as the treasurer of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, a position he held from 2012 to 2015.

Gustman’s email stated that Duthu’s co-authorship signifies that he is an active advocate of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, a “Palestinian-led movement” that has been “challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism,” according to its website.

In his email, Gustman argued that BDS is anti-Semitic due to its core goal. He referred to the 2013 declaration, which stated that “the NAISA Council encourages NAISA members to boycott Israeli academic institutions because they are imbricated with the Israeli state and we wish to place pressure on that state to change its policies.”

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Gustman said he believes the BDS movement is “an anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish movement,” adding that it is not proper for a school of Dartmouth’s reputation and standing to appoint someone who has taken a pro-BDS position and but has not publicly renounced it.

In the email, Gustman asked Duthu to “either publicly disavow the full ramifications of the BDS positions he has publicly endorsed, or resign his position as dean and return to his faculty position where expression of these views is sanctioned as academic freedom, but is not representative of Dartmouth College or its faculty.”

Jewish studies professor and chair Susannah Heschel disagreed with Gustman’s interpretation of Duthu’s co-authorship, saying that the declaration does not endorse the BDS movement, as it does not explicitly mention BDS.

She added that she believes BDS is a “very dangerous, wrong and nasty” movement.

History and Jewish studies professor Udi Greenberg said that support for BDS does not necessarily indicate anti-Semitism. Greenberg added that “as an Israeli, someone who has [a] Ph.D. from Israel, who has a lot of academic ties in Israel and whose family has suffered from anti-Semitic persecutions,” he finds this accusation “deeply misguided and honestly pretty offensive.”

“The BDS movement is composed of multiple movements and individuals — some of them are idiots, demagogues and anti-Semites,” Greenberg said. “The position itself of BDS — calling for the academic boycott of Israel, in under no circumstances can be constructed as anti-Semitism automatically.”

Michael Salzhauer ’84, a member of the Dartmouth chapter of Alum for Campus Fairness, a national organization that, according to its website, “fight[s] the anti-Semitism” on college campuses, said that as a dean of the faculty, Duthu will represent the College and its policies. Salzhauer noted that Duthu co-authored a policy that does not align with the policies of the College, as evidenced by College President Phil Hanlon’s statement on Dec. 28, 2013 affirming that Dartmouth does not support the boycott of Israeli institutions. Although Hanlon did not explicitly mention BDS, Salzhauer said the statement’s message suggested a rejection of the movement.

Salzhauer said Duthu has to be aware that boycotting Jewish academics is a “long and cherished go-to position of anti-Semites.”

According to Heschel and Greenberg, Duthu has actively supported the College’s academic ties with Israel, supporting student exchange programs with Israeli institutions and faculty members’ publications in Israel. Heschel said Duthu facilitated visits from professors working in Israel, which she said is a complex and cumbersome process.

“He is not promoting or facilitating the boycotting [of Israeli institutions] ... on the contrary, he is doing the opposite of boycotting,” Heschel said.

In a written statement to The Dartmouth, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence reaffirmed that Duthu “has embraced” the College’s institutional position against the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Gustman said he had originally not wanted to make a public statement regarding his reservations about Duthu. He said he sent letters to Duthu, Hanlon and the Board of Trustees in hopes of them resolving the issue internally. He received a response from Duthu but did not find it satisfactory.

“No matter how I disagreed with some people in the administration in the past, I never would have gone public, even on controversial things, so this is an issue that rose to such importance that I didn’t think I had any choice,” Gustman said.

Gustman added that some faculty members expressed agreement with his email to him personally, voicing concerns about, for instance, potential problems negotiating on research topics related to BDS with Duthu as a dean. He said, though, that they did not want to speak openly about the issue due to personal interest.

“It takes a lot of courage to get up when this person is going to be driving the budget of your department,” Gustman said.

On May 9, Duthu sent a faculty-wide email in response to “recent charges” that his support of the declaration should disqualify him from serving as the next dean of faculty of arts and sciences. In the email, Duthu said he “continue[s] to believe in the right of private citizens to express criticism of any country’s government policies.” Duthu added that at the same time, he does not believe “a boycott of academic institutions is the appropriate response” and that he fully supports Hanlon’s statement that the College will not support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions or academic boycotts of any kind. He also wrote that in his current role as associate dean for international studies and interdisciplinary programs, he has “embraced this position.”

Heschel said that through the May 9 email, Duthu has renounced the views expressed in the declaration that he signed in 2013, calling his new stance “a change of heart.”

Greenberg said that through the email, Duthu unequivocally expressed his opposition to academic boycotts and thus, Greenberg believes the matter is closed. He noted, though, that even if Duthu had not expressed opposition to these boycotts, such a stance should not affect his appointment to an administrative position.

“To me, the notion that someone’s politics is a yardstick that determines their appointment to an administrative position is hugely problematic,” Greenberg said. “I think that the position people hold in person is their own business.”

In a May 9 statement sent to the faculty in response to Duthu’s email, Gustman said Duthu did not clearly state that he repudiated his support of the BDS movement. Gustman wrote that “if [Duthu] does not clearly and unambiguously repudiate his position and support for BDS, the anger directed his way will only get louder.”

“I just wanted [Duthu] to issue a statement that says, ‘I know in 2013 I was a public supporter of the BDS movement — I no longer hold those views or repudiate those views,’” Gustman said in the interview. “That is all I wanted him to say, and in the latest letter he sent, he still doesn’t do it.”

Economics professor Andrew Levin said he does not understand why Duthu “[didn’t] simply say in plain English that he no longer supports the BDS movement.” He called Duthu’s letter “helpful but ambiguous.” Levin said he is concerned by ambiguity because “there is potentially a much bigger issue about how we are going to have an open and transparent community.”

Salzhauer said Duthu’s statements imply an unrealistic compromise.

“His statement to the faculty attempts to have feet in both thought camps and that isn’t possible,” Salzhauer said.

Lawrence wrote that “Duthu has publicly condemned anti-Semitism.” She added that Duthu has offered to meet with Gustman to discuss his concerns, but that Gustman declined.

Heschel said she hopes people will “accept the reality instead of the fantasy.”

“The fantasy is that Duthu boycotts [Israeli institutions],” Heschel said. “The reality is that he does not.”

Duthu did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.