(October 10, 2018 / JNS) A University of Michigan professor, citing his support for the BDS movement in denying a student’s request in August for a letter of recommendation for a semester-long study-abroad program at Tel Aviv University, was sanctioned on Tuesday by the university.
“As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor in the American Culture department, wrote to University of Michigan student Abigail Ingber in an email in August. “This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there. … For reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter.”
The punishments against Cheney-Lippold include a stern warning, ineligibility for a merit increase for the 2018-19 academic year, in addition to being ineligible to take an accredited sabbatical until the fall 2020 semester.
Ingber’s family found out about the course of action through a Freedom of Information Act request, obtained by JNS.
Cheney-Lippold met with Elizabeth Cole, interim dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, on Sept. 20, where he acknowledged he was wrong regarding university policies on the BDS movement and instead inserted “a personal stance,” according to a letter from Cole to the professor, which is part of the FOIA file.
The professor acknowledged that he previously wrote a few letters for students wanting to study in Israel because he “did not have tenure.”
“Supporting the academic aspirations of your students is fundamental to your responsibilities as a faculty member. You have an obligation to support your students’ academic growth,” said Cole. “Rather than fulfill this obligation, you used the student’s request as a platform to express your own personal views.”
“Nothing in this letter is intended to discourage you from speaking on or advocating for matters that are of concern to you, which you are free to do,” added Cole. “But interfering with a student’s academic aspirations, as you have done here, is not acceptable.”
This development comes amid two anti-Israel controversies at the university late last week: a guest lecture comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler and a graduate instructor denying a similar request from a student, citing the same reason as Cheney-Lippold.