TEL AVIV – The University of Michigan has disciplined a professor who refused to write a letter of recommendation to a student planning to study in Israel due to his support for the boycott movement against the Jewish state.
The University of Michigan won’t grant Prof. John Cheney-Lippold a merit raise during the 2018-19 academic year and he will not go on a sabbatical in January as planned or for the next two years, according to a letter signed by Elizabeth Cole, the interim dean of the university’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, obtained by The Detroit News.
Last month, Cheney-Lippold refused to recommend junior Abigail Ingber for a semester abroad program in Israel due to the professor’s support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The letter also said he could face additional discipline, even a dismissal, if a similar incident occurs in the future.
“Your conduct has fallen far short of the University’s and College’s expectations for how LSA faculty interact with and treat students. This letter is a strong warning that your behavior in this circumstance was inappropriate and will not be tolerated,” Cole wrote in her October 3 letter.
“In the future, a student’s merit should be your primary guide for determining how and whether to provide a letter of recommendation,” she added. “You are not to use student requests for recommendations as a platform to discuss your personal political beliefs.”
Cole also criticized Cheney-Lippold for using class time to discuss his views of Israel, the BDS movement and his decision not to recommend Ingber for the study abroad program.
“You did not honor your responsibility to teach your students the material on your syllabus related to your field of expertise. … This use of class time to discuss your personal opinions was a misuse of your role as a faculty member,” the interim dean wrote.
“Your actions throughout this entire series of events has harmed your students and has caused significant disruption to the Department of American Culture, the College and the University as a whole,” she said, adding that the University of Michigan “formally and publicly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”
The news comes of the heels of another UM student who was denied a letter of recommendation from graduate student instructor Lucy Peterson, citing support of an academic boycott of Israel.
According to the Washington Post, Peterson was keen to write the letter on behalf of UM junior Jake Secker until she learned that Secker was applying to study at Tel Aviv University.
Cheney-Lippold did not comment on his sanction, but Radhika Sainath, a Palestinian attorney advising him, was quoted as saying the university was “violating John’s rights by compelling him to speak in favor of a program that is fundamentally discriminatory and violates human rights.” She added that the decision to discipline the professor came “in response to an international pressure campaign.”
The sanctions were welcomed by pro-Israel groups and by Ingber’s father Mark, who said Cheney-Lippold’s actions were “anti-Semitic” and called on the university to fire him.
“The way he publicized everything and put his own personal beliefs ahead of the academic interests of the students and caused shame to the university and our daughter, that was sufficient basis for him to be terminated,” he said, according to The Detroit News, adding that the professor had waited until receiving tenure before rejecting his daughter’s request.
“It may not be the punishment we want but it’s a punishment and I know they are watching him and if he slips up again … he will suffer further,” he stated.
He added that Abigail learned this week that she had been accepted to study in Tel Aviv.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said Cole’s letter was a “an important development and an appropriate reprimand of Professor Cheney-Lippold’s reprehensible conduct.”
“The University of Michigan should be loud and fully transparent, making clear that a professor’s personal politics should never interfere with the academic freedom of his students. We hope that there is policy established to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt added.
Tilly Shames, who leads the University of Michigan Hillel Jewish group, said the letter “makes it clear that the university will not tolerate a professor interfering with a student’s academic aspirations, and we hope this decisive message will deter other instructors from taking similar action.”
The university came under fire late this week after a student revealed that a mandatory lecture for art students featured a slide comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.
Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett sent a letter to University of Michigan President Marc Schlissel calling on him stand up against the “trend of vitriol” at the university.
“The time has come for you as head of the university to make a strong stand against what has clearly become a trend of vitriolic hatred against the Jewish state on your campus,” Bennett wrote to Schlissel.