A month after University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold rescinded an offer — because of his personal political beliefs — to write student Abigail Ingber a letter of recommendation to study abroad at Tel Aviv University, the university has taken disciplinary action.
A letter dated Oct.3 to Cheney-Lippold from Elizabeth Cole, interim dean of U-M’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, stated the tenured American and digital studies associate professor will not get a merit raise this academic year and will not be allowed sabbaticals for two years, including a planned sabbatical this January, according to the letter, which the JN has obtained.
Cole’s letter further stated that the professor could be subject to more discipline, including dismissal, if similar conduct occurs. According to the letter, Cole wrote that Cheney-Lippold’s “conduct has fallen far short of the University’s and College’s expectations for how LSA faculty interact with and treat students,” that this letter “is a strong warning that your behavior in this circumstance was inappropriate and will not be tolerated” and that he is not to use “student requests for recommendations as a platform to discuss your personal political beliefs.”
The letter also took Cheney-Lippold to task for writing letters of recommendation for two other students who wanted to study abroad in Israel, but then denying Ingber. Cole’s letter says the professor stated: “I wrote letters for them because I did not have tenure.” Although Ingber asked for the recommendation letter before he received tenure, Cheney-Lippold waited several days after getting tenure to deny her recommendation letter.
She also wrote that on Sept. 18, Cheney-Lippold “used class time for both courses you are teaching to discuss your views on the BDS movement and your decision to withdraw your offer to write a recommendation letter.”
Cole also stated: “To be clear, there are no University departments participating in the boycott and, in fact, the University formally and publicly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”
On the heels of this disciplinary action, the Washington Post reports another U-M student, Jake Secker, has said he was refused a letter of recommendation for study abroad in Israel. In response, the graduate student instructor, Lucy Peterson, says she is part of an academic boycott that objects to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
As this story grows and has gained global interest, U-M President Mark Schlissel issued a letter to the campus community and, by extension, the Jewish community, stating, “Recent events on our campus have raised important questions around issues of personal beliefs, our responsibilities as educators, and anti-Semitism. The incidents have caused hurt and made some members of our community feel that their religious identity and academic aspirations are not valued.
“We want everyone in our Jewish community and beyond to know that we are committed to upholding an equitable and inclusive environment where everyone is given a chance to succeed and pursue the academic opportunities they have earned. First and foremost, this applies to our students. These are core values of our university, and even in moments of turmoil and strong disagreement, they guide our work and give us a path forward.”
The letter goes on to reiterate that the university “strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and no school, college, department or unit at our university endorses such a boycott.”
“We will work to make absolutely clear that faculty members’ personal political beliefs cannot interfere with their obligations to our students with regard to letter-writing and all other modes of academic support.”
In other action regarding U-M, Penny Stamps School of Art & Design senior Alexa Smith was appalled by a guest lecturer in a mandatory class whose artwork made a comparison between Hitler and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She and several other students spoke on Monday with the dean of her school and the university’s chief diversity officer to demand the university adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism.
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