update deskBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Groups demand university sanction those implementing BDS at Michigan

A letter supported by nearly 60 education, civil-rights and religious groups says “impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible.”

The University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Mich. Credit: Jha4ceb/Wikimedia Commons.
The University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Mich. Credit: Jha4ceb/Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly 60 organizations called on University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel to sanction professors at the public research university who engage in the BDS movement.

They also decried his reaction to a professor who denied a student’s request for a letter of recommendation for a semester-long study-abroad program in Israel as “insufficient.”

“The academic aspirations of our students—and their academic freedom—are fundamental to the University of Michigan and our teaching and research missions,” Schlissel said at a meeting on Thursday. “We are a large and diverse public university, and the individual opinions of our community range widely on many issues. But personal views and politics should never interfere with our support of students. It is counter to our support of students.”

Schlissel added that university administrators will investigate the matter.

In the letter, the 58 education, civil-rights and religious groups called on Schlissel to do more.

“Impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible,” they said.

“Individual faculty members have the right to express public support for an academic boycott of Israel. But when faculty like Prof. [John] Cheney-Lippold go as far as implementing the boycott’s guidelines by taking action to suppress students’ ability to travel to or study about Israel, they have abrogated the most basic professorial responsibility of promoting the academic welfare of their students,” they continued. “Such discriminatory behavior that impedes the rights of students must be sanctioned to the fullest extent of university policy.”

The letter also accuses Schlissel of implying that professors “will be permitted by your administration to discriminate against students wanting to study about and in Israel,” due to him saying that “members of the University of Michigan community have a wide range of ‘individual’ opinions on this and many other topics.”

“This is deeply alarming, given that there are at least two dozen U-M faculty members in a number of departments who have expressed public support for the academic boycott of Israel, including seven faculty members currently serving as chairs and directors of U-M academic departments and programs,” they said. “Left unaddressed, this isolated incident could lead to unchecked discrimination and the denial to students of their fundamental rights.”

“We therefore call on you to make a public statement specifically stating that this behavior will not be permitted, affirming your commitment to ensuring that no U-M student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel, and detailing the steps you will take to ensure that faculty do not implement an academic boycott of Israel at the University of Michigan,” concluded the letter.

Cheney-Lippold defended his decision, citing his support for BDS and his belief in “equality.”

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