Rethinking Academic Boycotts

By Marjorie Heins

Politically inspired boycotts are a powerful form of protest. Free speech, as the US Supreme Court has recognized, includes “the opportunity to persuade to action.” Boycotts are one such opportunity: they aim “to bring about political, social, and economic change” through advocacy, petition, and association with others in a common cause.But boycotts can also threaten the free speech of others. Particularly when they are aimed at colleges and universities, boycotts will, to the extent that they succeed, deprive these institutions of needed resources and undermine the ability of the scholars who work there to study, teach, and exchange ideas with colleagues internationally.

This article considers how to balance the competing free-speech values when compelling instances of brutality or injustice seem, to many observers across the globe, to justify a refusal to support or interact with the offending state’s academic institutions. 

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