Poll: Impact of Academic Boycott of the US on Philosophy Conferences


Over 5000 academics have signed on to a statement “pledging not to attend international conferences in the US” so long as the travel ban (which denies entry to the US by people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia) issued by Donald Trump in an executive order on January 27th  is in effect. 

The Executive Order states that the travel ban will be in place for 90 days (until April 27th, 2017), though Trump could extend it. Falling within this time period are the American Philosophical Association’s Central and Pacific Division Meetings, with the former running from March 1st – 4th, and the latter from April 12th – 15th.

Some readers have expressed interest in and concern about how the academic boycott will be affecting these meetings. To learn more about this, I’ve set up two polls below. The first is only for those who, prior to Trump’s immigration order, were planning on attending either the Central or Pacific APA Meetings. The second is for any academic.

 


 


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Sara Protasi
Sara Protasi
4 years ago

Maybe it doesn’t matter, but is the relevant difference that you want to make the one between US citizens and non, or residents and non? I’m not a citizen but reside in the US. I plan to attend US conferences although I might have to think long and hard about exiting the US and going to conferences outside of the US. Those considering the boycott should also take into account the reasons of those like me: as a junior scholar, I need to go to conferences (also as a parent of young children who misses Academic socializing!). Bit it might get harder for me to re-enter the US (even though I’m not from one of the countries currently affected by the ban). In any case, the poll as stated makes my situation not quite visible.Report

Onthemarket
Onthemarket
4 years ago

Isn’t the point of a boycott to hurt those responsible for some kind of injustice, thereby causing them to reconsider their unjust ways? If so, I fail to see 1) how this boycott will hurt the Trump administration and 2) how this will lead to any kind of change. It seems that the Trump administration would by happy if less people attended the APA, not sad (insofar as they care at all).

Furthermore, it seems that now, more than every, philosophers and academics need to come together, and conferences are a wonderful way to do this. Why stifle one way of banding together just when we need most to band together?Report

Felis Gradus
Felis Gradus
Reply to  Onthemarket
4 years ago

While that’s the usual understanding of boycotts, I think the purpose here is better understood as showing solidarity. As in, “we the boycotters are distinguished from those barred from attending conferences in the US only because we come from ‘safe’ countries; we refuse to employ that unjust privilege to our advantage.”Report

Fiona Woollard
Fiona Woollard
4 years ago

I am a UK citizen based in the UK. I had no plans to go to the US during this period. However, I’m pretty strongly against this boycott because (a) it piles further harm on those who are already being harmed by Trump, which in my view includes all of US academia (b) it most seriously harms those who are amongst the hardest hit by the ban, those who are unable to leave the US; (c) from what I have seen academics are already protesting with all their hearts and don’t need me to point out that this is unacceptable; (d) I think Trump would love anything that weakens academia.

I am, however, looking into whether for any conferences I’m involved with we could enable people who cannot travel to participate through telepresence robot hire. (This was suggested to me by Ofra Magidor.) I’m also thinking of asking the organisers of a US conference which I would love to attend but haven’t been able to for years because of cost/ childcare whether I might be able to attend as a telepresence robot and in that discussion I will talk to them about this issue.Report

Prefertobe
Prefertobe
4 years ago

I must not be the only one that thinks this boycott movement is bizarre. Boycotting a *conference* makes no difference to the Trump administration, in fact, with them already putting gag orders and conducting “PR” reviews on scientific output from federal agencies… this movement will be much celebrated!Report

Sara L. Uckelman
4 years ago

I am a US citizen who is a resident of the UK. I am against the academic boycott because I think it is wrong-headed: The boycott hurts those who are not in a position to change the status quo, and those who are responsible for the status quo will probably not even notice the boycott Therefore, i conclude that this is not an effective boycott.Report

Catherine Stinson
Catherine Stinson
4 years ago

Earlier commenters raise some good points against the boycott. In particular, the situation of non-citizens residing in the US and not being able to leave for conferences elsewhere is a concern. The boycott does not do any obvious harm to those people, however, and nobody has called for academics already in the US to join the boycott, as far as I know.
It looks like several points in favour of the boycott are being completely missed.
1. The boycott is in solidarity with the many people who can no longer travel to these conferences. If the ban seems unfair, then refusing to benefit from these conferences in ways that others cannot levels the field in at least a small way.
2. The ban has made many people not specifically targeted by it also feel unsafe traveling to the US. Many of us have felt unsafe in the US and at TSA checkpoints for several years already.
3. The boycott will have the effect of reducing academic tourist dollars flowing into the US economy. 5000+ people will not be buying airline tickets, paying for hotels, eating overpriced meals, etc. This is one way that people with no voting rights in the US can have an effect that Trump may care about. As far as I know, nobody has suggested not paying association fees.
4. If the boycott results in increased access to conferences via video links, that has the potential to reach many, many more academics internationally than lifting the ban would. Frankly, this is a long overdue move that people who care about accessibility have been calling for for many years.
5. Perhaps it is not so unfair to put some of the burden of changing US politics on the shoulders of US academics. Despite the great sadness and frustration many of you are feeling, and the protesting you have been doing, US academics are the people with the most power to change the situation. It seems doubtful that attending the APA will be an effective tactic.Report

Filippo
Filippo
Reply to  Catherine Stinson
4 years ago

Thanks Catherine for your post. I fully agree with you. In particular, I think that your first point is absolutely crucial—and, apparently, many are missing it. There is a fundamental moral value to defend here—and this goes beyond the mere calculus of benefits for the community of American philosophers that may or may not result from refraining from traveling to the US during the ban. If the US government has decided that hundreds of people with legal right to enter are not good for the US, I don’t want to be good either. This is a legitimate and reasonable way of protesting against an act of barbaric discrimination.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Catherine Stinson
4 years ago

“The boycott will have the effect of reducing academic tourist dollars flowing into the US economy. 5000+ people will not be buying airline tickets, paying for hotels, eating overpriced meals, etc. This is one way that people with no voting rights in the US can have an effect that Trump may care about.”

If those 5000 people would have spent $3000 each (probably an overestimate) that would be $15 million. That’s slightly less than one millionth of US GDP. I don’t think Trump will lose any sleep over it.Report

Fabien Capeilleres
Fabien Capeilleres
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

The point is not that Trump loses sleep over it! It is that the people actually losing the money think about his policies. Furthermore, these actions are incremental, so it’s $ 15 million here, $ 10 million there, another $20 M over there, etc. But he still will not lose sleep over a huge hole in GDP because he will have an “alternative number” to offer.Report

Nicolas
Nicolas
Reply to  Fabien Capeilleres
4 years ago

Fabien, I think 5000+ people already covers a range of conferences, and as David notes, this is an overestimate. So, unless the boycott is very widely really followed, and there are really lots of conferences impacted, I doubt anyone will care. Tourists will fill up the seats. The point of a boycott is, at least in part, to be effective; foreign or domestic academics are being delusional if they think they can have any economic impact likely to affect the administration’s decisions. As for symbolic value and solidarity, sure it is important, but that’s something that can also be expressed at conferences themselves, in public forums, in news outlets, and most importantly in protests. The boycott is a non-unique means of achieving the same, if not a larger, effect. Making US academia seem less attractive to the world is the last thing we need to give to Trump.Report

SeriouslyFolks?
SeriouslyFolks?
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

Why is it relevant here to compare the number to GDP? If we instead compare it to the current budget of the EPA, for example, it might seem like quite a large number. If we were to offer that amount to the UNHCR, I doubt they’d turn it down as mere peanuts. In fact, I’ve just donated a portion of what I would have otherwise spent going to NYC for the Metaphysics of Science conference to the UNHCR. They seem to have accepted the payment.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  SeriouslyFolks?
4 years ago

“Why is it relevant here to compare the number to GDP?”

Because the suggestion in the post to which I was replying was that one point of the boycott is to harm the US economy. (“The boycott will have the effect of reducing academic tourist dollars flowing into the US economy” and so have an “effect that Trump may care about”.)

If you want to argue for not going to conferences and spending the money on something else, that’s a different argument (though the bulk of conference expenditure is probably from people using grants and research allowances that can’t be redirected to charity).Report

Anne
Anne
Reply to  Catherine Stinson
4 years ago

I find the statement “[p]erhaps it is not so unfair to put some of the burden of changing US politics on the shoulders of US academics. Despite the great sadness and frustration many of you are feeling, and the protesting you have been doing, US academics are the people with the most power to change the situation.” I’m less then certain that the exchange rate between professional capital and political capital is as favourable towards the former as the OP assumes. In what sense, precisely, are US academics, including an increasing class of adjuncts, be in any position to have any kind of a noticeable impact on the current US administration?Report

SeriouslyFolks?
SeriouslyFolks?
Reply to  Anne
4 years ago

Here are just the first few ways that US academics can have an effect that immediately spring to my mind:
– choosing course content that teaches students relevant skills for resisting false news, changing the minds of people with entrenched views, etc.
– talking to the 20 – 800 students to whom you lecture each week about politics, human rights, the constitution, etc.
– accessing relevant research about the law, social persuasion, whatever, that the general public does not have access to, and
– understanding that research, and formulating well-informed plans for making an impact.
Certainly the bulk of that burden should not be put on the shoulders of adjuncts. Playing that card here seems a little cynical. There are still many tenured folk out there with time on their hands, money in their pockets, and brains in their heads.
Complaining about your inability to make an impact on philosophy discussion boards certainly isn’t going to change anything, but the fact that you can string words together suggests that you are capable of writing to your congress member, or senator. If you’re also capable of oral communication, you could phone them, or make use of those skills to talk to your neighbours, acquaintances, family members, baristas, etc.
In short, instead of unleashing your argumentative skills on people who are doing something, anything, even if it’s only $15 billion worth of effectiveness (which seems to me a huge amount, regardless of its proportion of GDP), you might instead use that energy to try convincing some of your fellow citizens to change their minds about Trump.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  SeriouslyFolks?
4 years ago

“even if it’s only $15 billion worth of effectiveness”

$15 million, not $15 billion – though even then, my objection wasn’t that $15M wasn’t enough effectiveness, but that it was so small as a fraction of GDP as to have *zero* effect if the intended effect is to do something that “Trump may care about”.Report

Philosophy Grad Student
Philosophy Grad Student
4 years ago

I like the idea of putting pressure on conferences to make teleconferencing more common. But I’m still not sure why it makes sense for philosophers to boycott going to the US for philosophy conferences in particular when the philosophy conferences have nothing to do with the ban and most of the people running them surely oppose the ban. Why not boycott traveling to the US full stop (aside from cases of arguable necessity)?

My first reaction to the boycott was that it sends a message to the conferences that they should stop being international and become more US-centric, or just stop existing all together. Perhaps the message doesn’t have to be that anti-internationalist if teleconferencing was explicitly pushed as an important solution during the ban.

The solidarity argument kind of makes sense, but that would also be a reason not to go to the US at all during the ban. It would also be a reason for non-US academics not to accept any academic positions in the US during the ban – though maybe the boycotters don’t want to deprive themselves quite that much.Report

Catherine Stinson
Catherine Stinson
Reply to  Philosophy Grad Student
4 years ago

If you read the boycott statement, the opposite message is clearly stated. The statement explicitly applies to “international conferences in the US,” and it reads, “We question the intellectual integrity of these spaces and the dialogues they are designed to encourage while Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded from them.” In other words, if the conference is supposed to be international, and yet excludes an important portion of the international community, there is a problem.
Including people via two-way video link, so that they can participate remotely is a meaningful change that conference organizers could make.
I suspect that many signatories (among others) *are* planning to avoid all travel to the US, not just for conferences.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Catherine Stinson
4 years ago

I think the boycott would make sense if the statement included suggestions for how conferences could resolve some of the problems of exclusion posed by the Muslim ban – such as allowing people from those countries to teleconference in, doing outreach to Muslims in countries not on the ban list, and anything else that might help. And then the boycott would target specific conferences that failed to adopt those solutions.

As it’s written, the statement gives no options for conferences to avoid being boycotted, except for Trump to lift the Muslim ban. Even if a conference attempted to adopt all proposed solutions, like the teleconferencing, it would presumably still be boycotted. At least, there’s nothing in the statement to indicate that this would exempt them from the boycott. This makes the boycott look non-constructive.

I could also understand a boycott of just going to the US generally. And while it’s true that plenty of people who sign the statement will avoid going to the US generally, that is not how the statement is framed. It is written specifically as a boycott of academic conferences. Someone could sign this statement and then take their family to Disney Land, or take a job at a US university.Report

Todd Klimson
Todd Klimson
4 years ago

Perhaps if they read the EO rather than listening to what they want to hear, they may see how ignorant they are. Boycott all you want, the less illiterate.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
4 years ago

Trump’s election, along with Brexit, le Pen, Jobbik/Fidesz, Law and Justice, and similar, raises a real danger that the post-WWII liberal international order might collapse and be replaced by a collection of isolationist, ethno-nationalist states feuding amongst themselves in trade wars and possibly real wars.

The international research networks of academia are only a small part of that liberal international order, but it still seems a bit quixotic to actively tear them down at this moment of all moments.Report

Fabien Capeilleres
Fabien Capeilleres
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

It does not tear them down: the actual communication, the exchange of information has never been more active. This blog is an example… What the boycott does is to show that “International”, as in “international conference”, is a joke given the political circumstances, and that hopefully philosophers know as much about the application of real moral principles that they do about logic principles. So that for instance they would feel some solidarity with the people who could not attend because of the ban, or that they would not dare to mention in their curriculum their presence at an “international conference” that was not really international…Report

Fabien Capeilleres
Fabien Capeilleres
4 years ago

I find the results of this pool (and a significant number of comments) appalling. Except for Catherine Stinson’s, the comments and the votes seems to completely miss the symbolic value of this boycott, and to focus on immediate, pragmatic and personal effects. The idea of solidarity with the colleagues and the students could not attend or would not dare to, the imposture of the “international” dimension claimed by the conference – a claim they will still use when it will come to list the “international conferences attended” in their CV… -, in other words: the simple moral dimension of this boycott is for the most part ignored!
Perhaps the problem is that APA meetings are a) not really international research oriented but rather are a big local job market fair. b) Attendees go there not because of their intellectual appetite for international research (conveniently delivered at home) but because either they have to be there to interview a candidate for a job or they are scheduled for a job interview. Or because they feel they need to build up their network by showing up and easily pile up one more line for their CV. So why bother with applied moral principles ? To claim that we are against the ban is far enough, and has the huge advantage to position ourselves correctly in the wildly liberal field of humanities, without having to sacrifice anything! “The art of the deal”!Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Fabien Capeilleres
4 years ago

It is precisely the symbolic value that concerns me. I think this is actively harmful. I’m happy to concede, though, that people who disagree do so in good faith; it would be nice if they could reciprocate.Report

Anne
Anne
Reply to  Fabien Capeilleres
4 years ago

Boycotting as a collective “obligation to signal” is on incredibly shaky grounds in the absence of meaningful agreement amongst actors on its semiotic and normative value.Report

Matt
Reply to  Fabien Capeilleres
4 years ago

For what its’ worth, the description of the APA meetings as “job fairs” was never really accurate for the Pacific or the Central (very few interviews were ever done at those meetings) and has become largely inaccurate for the Eastern as well. I am less sure that this is wonderful than many others are, for various reasons that are not important here, but it is no longer accurate, even of the Eastern APA, to describe it as a “job fair”, and it was never accurate of the Pacific or the Central.Report

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
Reply to  Shelley Tremain
4 years ago
HK Andersen
HK Andersen
4 years ago

On a somewhat different note than the boycott, I want to echo Sara Protasi’s point at the beginning about crossing borders. Sometimes the issue is not a conference being inside or outside the US, but attendees having to cross the border one way then another to get to it. If you are already within the boundaries of the US, you may not be able to leave, which means ONLY US conferences are available as options. But others can only attend conferences outside of the US since they are currently outside the US border. As such, there is something to be said for making sure that there is circulation in terms of locating international or even national conferences. When the Pacific APA is in Vancouver, many people can attend who would not otherwise be able to cross into the US. But a different group of people cannot attend because they cannot get out then back into the US.

Creative new ways to involve people in conferences with various virtual means, to somewhat produce the lively, fun, and idea-stimulating aspects of in-person attendance, would be a great addition to the tools to ensure equitable participation.Report

Uncertain
Uncertain
4 years ago

Suppose that 1) a person, P, is prejudicially excluded from F (where F is a meeting, conference, publication outlet, etc.), and 2) those not excluded benefit from P’s exclusion, e.g., a weak football team’s position might be suddenly improved by the exclusion of teams much stronger than them. 3) P is harmed not merely by their exclusion from F, but by the fact that others continue to participate in F.

Neither 2 or 3 by itself is sufficient reason to boycott a conference. Someone might have to drop out for medical reasons, personal difficulties, etc. 1 is what makes the exclusion problematic, but I don’t think that the conjunction of 1 & 2 is sufficient reason to boycott a conference. If I’m not harming someone who is excluded, it is unclear why I should stop my participation.

I agree that if 1 & 3 were true, it is clearly problematic to participate in F. But I’m unsure what benefit those participating in American conferences would receive that would cause harm to those excluded. It’s not like there are many zero sum games in philosophy conferences such that a benefit to one entails a harm to someone else. Perhaps the job market is one clear cut case. But notice that if 3 is the reason for the boycott, it would also apply to those in America as much as those traveling to it.

So, I’m muddled. I think if I were clearly harming someone excluded by attending a conference, then I would boycott the conference regardless of whether I was in America or not. But I’m unsure what exact harm my participation could cause.

And, yes, I’m thinking of this as a consequentialist. But I think it is interesting to identify who is harmed by your participation and who might benefit by your boycott.Report