Yet thanks to pressure from outraged donors and, perhaps, fear of repercussions from possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, an email to the George Washington University community from Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs M. Brian Blake proved that administrators can do the right thing. The first sentence made clear his intentions about Feldman, a professor of anthropology: "We have listened and heard the concerns from some members of our community about the appointment of Dr. Elana Feldman." In the email's penultimate paragraph he sealed the deal: "Dr. Feldman will not be a candidate for the permanent position."
Blake reiterated the university's opposition to BDS and assured his readers that Feldman had "specifically committed to adhering to GW's policy regarding freedom of expression." Feldman's long record of anti-Israel activism, including her (failed) efforts to pass a pro-BDS resolution in the American Anthropological Association, mandated this assurance. Unfortunately, so did Blake's earlier whitewashing of Feldman's obvious shortcomings.
In the original May 8 announcement of Feldman's appointment, Blake gushed: she "brings to the interim dean role more than a decade of teaching and administrative experience." Worse, "As an expert in her field with close working relationships with faculty, students and staff, she is an excellent choice to serve in this role." A week later, in the face of mounting criticism, Blake assured JTA of Feldman's "respect for and commitment to all students, faculty and staff of the Elliott School community." If Feldman had her way, those close relationships and commitments surely wouldn't involve Israeli academics or universities.
In the end, however, Provost Blake took a rare stand for genuine academic freedom, even where Israeli academics are concerned. For that, he deserves our thanks – and our watchful eye.
Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs at the Middle East Forum and director of its Campus Watch project.