The Vassar College administration has threatened to pull all funding — nearly a million dollars — from the Vassar Student association (VSA) over a proposal to join a boycott of Israel.
The threat came in a meeting with student government last week, and was reiterated in a joint letter from Vassar president Catharine Bond Hill and dean Chris Roellke, in which the administrators said that the college could respond to such a boycott by “vetoing the proposal … taking away the VSA’s authority over spending the activities fee, or overseeing that spending in some way so as to prevent it from implementing the boycott.”
In the statement, Hill and Roellke said that while “VSA has the right to endorse the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] proposal, given our commitment to free speech,” that right did not extend to an actual boycott. “The college,” they wrote, “cannot use its resources in support of a boycott of companies.”
It’s hard to make any sense of this distinction. Surely an endorsement of a boycott is a use of resources in support of that boycott, if anything is. Joining a boycott, on the other hand, is by definition not a use of resources — in fact, it’s the opposite.
For now, though, this distinction is moot. While VSA endorsed BDS by a 15-7 vote at its meeting this Sunday, they declined to join the proposed boycott themselves. (The vote on that proposal was 12 in favor to 10 against, but it required a two-thirds majority for passage.)
But while the VSA vote saves them from the prospect of defunding by Vassar, the threat itself should give us pause. Student control of student money is a core principle of shared governance, and the threat to snatch such control away over a boycott of Ben and Jerry’s is an indication of either incredible hubris or incredible nervousness — or both.
The Vassar administration’s threat was preposterously stupid, in other words. And I expect we’ll be seeing more like it as the student movement continues to ramp up.