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Thousands of University Professors to Boycott US Conferences

FILE - Protesters chant during a rally against the travel ban at San Diego International Airport in San Diego, March 6, 2017.
FILE - Protesters chant during a rally against the travel ban at San Diego International Airport in San Diego, March 6, 2017.

Thousands of university professors worldwide have signed an online petition calling for an academic boycott of international conferences in the United States.

The academics are protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily barring travelers from six majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen.

"The order institutionalizes racism and fosters an environment in which people racialized as Muslim are vulnerable to ongoing and intensifying acts of violence and hatred," said Nadine El-Enany, a law professor at the University of London's Birkbeck School of Law, who organized the boycott.

"Among those affected by the Order are academics and students who are unable to participate in conferences and the free communication of ideas," she said in an online statement.

The travel order bars new visas for 90 days to people from the six countries. However, hours before it was set to take effect a federal court in Hawaii temporarily blocked the ban, saying there was "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus."

Following the initial ban, announced in January, academics from around the world debated online and in think pieces.

Meanwhile, a petition signed in January by some 31,000 U.S. academics called the executive travel order "discriminatory," adding that it "significantly damages American leadership in higher education and research."

"The United States is a democratic nation, and ethnic and religious profiling are in stark contrast to the values and principles we hold," the petition said.

Many non-U.S. academics expressed concern about attending conferences where their international colleagues were banned because of their nation of origin.

Earlier this month, an African trade summit hosted by the University of Southern California made news after none of its African guests were able to attend due to problems obtaining visas.

Conrad Brunstrom, an English professor at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, says the point of the boycott is not about influencing U.S. policy, but to "influence the apolitical, to ensure that the downright un-American and unconstitutional [in spirit if not in letter] attempt to impose what is, in effect, a 'religious test' on entry to the USA is not normalized."

"This petition will result in cancelled speakers, cancelled panels and cancelled conferences. Hotels will lose business. … And following the boycott of unpopular people [like academics] may come other boycotts of less despised visitors," Brunstrom wrote in a blog post.

"There may be cultural and sporting boycotts. The ability of the USA to host international events of any stature may be compromised. As a consequence, growing numbers of people may start to ask questions about what has happened to their country."