President Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the U.S. has generated widespread blowback from protesters around the globe. As part of this resistance, thousands of professors and academics recently signed on to a petition for an academic boycott of conferences held in the United States, supposedly in solidarity with individuals affected by Trump’s executive decision. The justification for such a drastic move is not unreasonable. The ban has driven a hard barrier through what were open borders, leaving some unable to enter the country and other’s unwilling to leave for fear that they will not be able to return. However, I feel that the possible benefits to be accrued from the boycott are both limited in scope and highly doubtful in their likelihood of fruition.
Proponents of the boycott argue that it is not just a symbolic gesture but an act of solidarity for those whose lives have truly been upended by the ban, and feel it would be wrong to travel to the U.S. when their colleagues are unable to do so. Furthermore, they hope this act will push American universities toward a more vocal and solid opposition to the travel ban. However, it’s questionable whether this will increase the resolve of universities to oppose the ban. Already, 27,000 academics, among them 51 Nobel Laureates, have put their names to a separate petition opposing the executive order. It’s also possible that such an aggressive move will instigate infighting in the international academic community at a time when unity is needed.
Looking beyond these immediate concerns and assuming the boycott inspires universities to line up as one in their opposition to the ban, I still find it hard to foresee any meaningful change resulting from the ban. It’s unlikely that Trump gives so much weight to the views of academics he would consider reversing himself, were the ban not already blocked by judicial decree. Universities are already one of the areas where reasoned opposition to the ban will come from. As one opponent of the boycott notes, at times like this “universities have the potential to encourage critical ideas and organize resistance,” and isolating them from the international community will stifle global cooperation at a time when it is desperately needed.
Moreover, this boycott will serve to further isolate academics that are stranded in the U.S. and unable to leave the country due to the possibility that they may not be allowed back in. It is an outlet for those looking to vent their anger, not a move toward a lasting solution. Those looking to fight against the intent of the order should focus on doing everything possible to make participation in conferences possible for those unable to physically travel. Video conferencing and web-based participation are not the same as a physical presence, but still foster connections and allow for the continued flow of ideas across national boundaries.
The boycott is intended as a protest, and in that light it can be seen as an admirable demonstration of support for those affected. But should the boycott become widespread, the eventual outcome would be an insulated world anathema to the free exchange of ideas. In times of division we must emphasize building new connections and maintaining those we have, not reducing them. The administration is intent on curtailing our relations with the outside world; a boycott will help them build a wall between us and our foreign counterparts.
Alex Mink is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.