Dartmouth Professor Outraged by Soon-to-Be Dean’s Support for Boycott Letter

  • Bruce Duthu is Dartmouth College's new Dean of the Faculty. (Dartmouth College - Eli Burakian)

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, May 12, 2017

Hanover — A Dartmouth College economics professor is protesting the school’s new pick for dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, arguing that the prospective dean’s past support for a letter advocating boycotts of Israeli academics makes him an unacceptable choice.

N. Bruce Duthu, a professor of Native American Studies whose appointment as dean was announced in March, signed a 2013 letter from the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association that declared the academic organization’s support for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, raising concerns from Dartmouth economics professor Alan Gustman.

Duthu, a 1980 Dartmouth graduate, is a member of the United Houma Nation and an expert on federal Indian law and tribal sovereignty, according to the Dartmouth news release announcing his appointment.

Gustman, in an open letter this month, argued that Duthu’s support for the boycott should be interpreted as an endorsement of the wider “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement, an international group that aims to pressure the Israeli government over alleged human-rights abuses of Palestinians.

Participants in BDS, as the movement is known, say Israel is responsible for “apartheid”-like conditions between Jews and Arabs, as well as “colonialist” displacement of Palestinians through settlements in their land.

Critics argue that the Palestinian-led group is a cover for people with anti-Semitic views to attack Israel and Jewish people more broadly — an inappropriate view, Gustman said, for an incoming dean of the faculty, who helps set academic budgets and is supposed to advocate for all faculty members.

“I have no reason to believe that Professor Duthu is anti-Semitic,” Gustman said in his letter, in which he called on Duthu to either denounce the BDS movement or resign as dean. “His friends and colleagues do not consider him to be anti-Semitic, and are sincere in their opinions. What is relevant here is that he is supporting a movement that is substantially anti-Semitic, and that he has taken a position with regard to the BDS movement that is in opposition to the position and responsibilities he will have as Dean of the Faculty.”

Dartmouth’s president, provost and the leaders of its Jewish Studies program all expressed support for Duthu, who did not return messages left for him on Thursday and Friday.

In a written response to Gustman sent to the whole faculty, Duthu said he did not support boycotts of Israel and condemned anti-Semitism. He declined to resign or to denounce the BDS movement, saying no country’s government should be immune from criticism.

“I continue to believe in the right of private citizens to express criticism of any country’s government policies,” he said. “At the same time, I do not believe that a boycott of academic institutions is the appropriate response. Instead, I support sustained, open, and collegial engagement with fellow academics, including collaborative research and teaching.”

Duthu is scheduled to replace current Dean of the Faculty Mike Mastanduno on July 1. Duthu joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1986 to lead the Native Studies Program, served for a time on the faculty of Vermont Law School in South Royalton, and returned to Dartmouth in 2008.

College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said Duthu had the support of college President Phil Hanlon, who himself denounced a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in 2013, saying it restricted “the free exchange of ideas.”

“Professor Duthu has the full confidence of President Hanlon and Provost (Carolyn) Dever,” Lawrence said in an email. “He has offered to meet with Professor Gustman to discuss his concerns; however, Professor Gustman has declined.”

Udi Greenberg, an associate professor in Dartmouth’s Jewish Studies Program, and Susannah Heschel, chairwoman of the program, said the Jewish Studies faculty are behind Duthu and praised him for his past work with Israeli scholars and his support for Dartmouth colleagues.

“We all view Professor Duthu as a friend and an ally,” Greenberg said. “He’s been an active supporter of our work. He’s been bringing Israeli academics to Dartmouth. He’s supported Dartmouth faculty traveling to Israel and cooperating with Israeli scholars.

“I think the accusation ... that somehow his appointment reflects an environment that is hostile to Israel or to Jews or anything of that sort is not based on truth and is unfair to Professor Duthu’s solid and ongoing record.”

Greenberg, an Israeli-American who studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said he opposed the BDS movement because it was an ineffective way of promoting political change, but added that criticism of the Israeli government does not necessarily correlate with anti-Semitism.

“I don’t like to throw around the term anti-Semitism,” Heschel said in a separate interview, “because I wrote a book about Nazi Germany, and it was so bad that I want to be very careful when I use that term. ... That was really horrific, and somehow to me it minimizes the word to use it in an easy manner for all kinds of situations that could lead to confusion.”

Gustman, the economics professor, replied that the focus on Israel above other countries accused of human-rights abuses implied anti-Semitism.

“Singling out Israel for an active boycott of its academic institutions is inherently anti-Semitic,” he said. “No other country in the world is singled out for an academic boycott, only the Jewish state. This continues a long history of boycotts. It by and large is the new anti-Semitism.”

The Jewish Studies professors also pointed out that the NAISA letter did not mention the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement explicitly, which means that Duthu wasn’t necessarily endorsing the latter group, they said.

Gustman’s response: a boycott is a boycott.

“If you look at the title of the NAISA document, and my quote in my letter from that document calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, they are engaging in not-too-clever semantics,” Gustman said. “... His defenders first claim he didn’t do it, and then claim he has renounced his previous stance. You can’t have it both ways.”

Several online media outlets, including the conservative publications Washington Free Beacon and Legal Insurrection, a law blog, picked up the story after Gustman disseminated his letter on May 3.

“Dartmouth Appoints Anti-Semitic Terrorist Enabler As Its New Dean,” said a headline attached to a reprint of Gustman’s letter in FrontPage Magazine.

Many students on Friday said they were unaware of the dispute or had only recently heard about it.

India Nelson, a freshman from Minnesota, said she received the news from a Jewish friend who was outraged over Duthu’s appointment. Although Nelson said she still lacked enough knowledge to form a strong opinion, she said the Israel boycotts’ focus on a particular group might make Israelis and Jews feel uncomfortable on campus.

“I think that can put them at a disadvantage,” she said. “Even if someone might disagree, or have a different opinion, they might not want to put a certain group at a disadvantage.”

Katie Bogart, another first-year student who came over to join the conversation, said Duthu’s political views shouldn’t affect his appointment as dean.

“There’s something to be said for the case that the Israeli government mistreats Palestinians,” she said, and either way, she added, reasonable people can fall on either side of that question and should be encouraged to debate it.

“That’s honestly ridiculous,” she said of the idea that Duthu should step down. “That has nothing to do with how good of a dean he’s going to be.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.


Bruce Duthu joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1986 to lead the Native Studies Program, served for a time on the faculty of Vermont Law School in South Royalton, and returned to Dartmouth in 2008. Michael Mastanduno is a professor of government at Dartmouth and came to the college in 1987. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Mastanduno’s time at Dartmouth.