MESA Board letter to Durham University concerning BRISMES

Professor Stuart Corbridge
Vice-Chancellor
Durham University
Palatine Centre
Stockton Road
Durham DH1 3LE UK
vice.chancellor@durham.ac.uk

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) writes to express its grave concern at your university’s decision to withdraw administrative services from the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES). According to your letter of termination, written on September 19, 2019, the decision was the upshot of the vote by the overwhelming majority of BRISMES members to support the resolution that calls for the academic boycott of Israel. We are disturbed by the threat that your decision poses to the academic freedom of our colleagues in Britain.

MESA is the preeminent international association of North America with over 2700 members, scholars and teachers in the field of Middle East Studies. MESA is committed to upholding standards in the field and ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the Middle East region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Your decision to withdraw administrative support from BRISMES appears to be a serious violation of the right of our colleagues to express their opinions and constitutes a violation of their academic freedom. Your response to the BRISMES protest against termination, contained in your letter of January 30, 2020, provides additional cause for concern insofar as it failed to address the threats to freedom of opinion that lie at the heart of our colleagues’ protest against your actions;  instead, it offered a number of vague and confusing explanations for the termination. The implications of Durham University’s decision are grave:  the ability of BRISMES members to exercise their right to free expression has been called into question. Furthermore, your actions may provide worrisome precedent for other UK academic institutions that might consider curtailing the right of their faculty, staff and students to freedom of opinion on controversial issues.

We call upon Durham University to publicly affirm its commitment to the right of BRISMES members and the society as a whole, to express their views without running the risk of sanctions that punish their freedom of expression.

Thank you for your attention. We respectfully await your response.

Sincerely,

Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

cc:          Jennifer Sewel, Durham University Secretary

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