‘Higher education’ in the service of empire as 286
university presidents goose-step to the dictates
of the American Jewish Congress

by G.S.   <george.salzman@umb.edu>    7 October 2007

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/S2/2007-10-07.htm

      Shortly after the end of the First World War, deservedly famous American author and social activist Upton Sinclair wrote what should be known as a classic study of the higher education establishment in the United States, The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education.[2] His most extensive first-hand experience was as a college student at Columbia University. Born in 1878, at age 45 when The Goose-Step appeared he was already a famous investigative, muckraking author.

      In Chapter IV of The Goose-Step Sinclair writes:

      “In the year 1901 I was twenty-one years of age, and was ready to quit Columbia. The great university had become to me nothing but a library full of books, and some empty class-rooms in which to sit while reading them. No longer was I lured by elaborate prospectuses, setting forth lists of “courses”; I had tried forty of them, and knew that nine-tenths of them were dull. The great institution was a hollow shell, a body without a soul, a mass of brick and stone held together by red tape.”
. . .
      “. . . I have come to understand that . . . [o]ur educational system is not a public service, but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist. To establish this thesis is the purpose of The Goose-step.”
      To keep America capitalist requires maintaining the empire, which right now includes maintaining Israel as the top regional military power in the mideast. To keep American public opinion committed to that position is a goal of the American Jewish Congress (AJC). So when the AJC signals for the goose-step parade to commence, President Bollinger of Columbia leads the march in this initiative organized by eight presidents (marked by * in the rich text format–rtf–file linked to in [1] ), “along with Harold T. Shapiro, President Emeritus of Princeton University”, as stated in the ad. Presumably the AJC did the footwork and paid the cost of publication.

      The advertisement is cleverly done, with the focus centered on Bollinger’s (and the other signatories) pseudo-commitment to academic freedom, the supposed separation of academia from politics and the “much-needed international market-place of ideas.” I was struck by the lengthy list of instutions of “higher learning” as Thorstein Veblen termed them,[3] and their presiding officers, as shown in the rtf file where one is not distracted by Bollinger’s superficially lofty-sounding statement. It is, by and large, not a very impressive list of names, mostly unfamiliar to me, both the institutions and their “leaders.” I was glad to see that no one from the University of Massachusetts had signed, probably an oversight by the hustlers from the AJC, but then Harvard didn’t appear either, and surely they hadn’t overlooked Harvard. The dedication to higher learning of such institutions as for example The International Import-Export Institute, of which Donald N. Burton is the head administrator who signed, was gratifying to see.

      A published analysis of the AJC’s flashy initiative by an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled “Academic shock and awe”, begins:[4]

The Israeli lobby has enlisted US university presidents to its cause with no debate on US university campuses, writes Sharif Elmusa
      The Israeli emperor now wears only the clothes of apartheid. Many people are noticing and are speaking up. Some have taken steps to boycott this, perhaps the last, apartheid state. The wave includes a wide range of participants, from academic and labour unions to writers, artists, church and student groups and others. Together they speak of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Some of those in the forefront of the campaign are Jewish, including the art critic Peter Berger, Steven Rose at the Open University, and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who labelled the Israeli system as worse than his country's former apartheid regime, endorsed divestment. What drew the ire of Israel and the Israel lobby the most, however, is a resolution by the British University and College Union (UCU) at its congress 30 May. The UCU resolution encourages its members to “consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israel academic institutions,” and to forge closer relations with Palestinian universities.

      The Israel lobby has reacted to the UCU's move in Britain with an academic “shock and awe" operation. What I am referring to is the one-page advertisement in The New York Times 8 August, paid for by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The AJC assembled for the ad the signatures of more than 300 American college and university presidents [I think the correct number is 285. –G.S.] endorsing a statement by Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, that pronounces an identity of interests between US and Israeli universities: “for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you [the UCU] are seeking to punish.” It then menacingly takes the logical step: “Add Columbia to the boycott list.” This way the battle is shifted to the enemy's turf: if you boycott Israeli universities, we will boycott you — a British eye (and a Palestinian one as collateral damage) for an Israeli eye.


[1] The American Jewish Congress placed, as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on 8 August 2007 a dramatic statement endorsed by the president of Columbia University and 285 other U.S. college and university presidents or chancellors attacking the legitimacy of the proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions by the British University and College Union. The ad, as published, is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/S2/2007-10-07.pdf . It is also available in a less dramatic but perhaps more revealing format at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/S2/2007-10-07.rtf .

[2] The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education, by Upton Sinclair, Chapter IV. The quoted material and other excerpts from the book are in my essay, “Colleges and Universities from Coast to Coast. Who Runs Them? And for What Purpose?”, available at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/SfHS/1995-01-19.htm .

[3] The Higher Learning In America, Thorstein Veblen, 1918. Available at http://www.ditext.com/veblen/veblen.html .

[4] “Academic Shock and Awe”, by Sharif Almusa, is at http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/864/op1.htm . I am indebted to Cherifa Sirry <cherifasirry@yahoo.com> for writing me about the original AJC advertisement in The New York Times and Sharif Almusa’s critique of the initiative. I also am indebted to Sharif S. Elmusa <selmusa@aucegypt.edu> for sending me a link to the advertisement, http://www.ajc.org/atf/cf/%7B42D75369-D582-4380-8395-D25925B85EAF%

All comments and criticisms are welcome.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>

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