ANN ARBOR, MI – Nearly 60 religious, civil rights and education advocacy organizations are calling on the University of Michigan and President Mark Schlissel to sanction associate professor John Cheney-Lippold, who last week rescinded an offer of a recommendation letter for a student to study in Israel.
The 58 organizations demanded that the university also sanction any other professors at UM who participate in the same practices, affirm that no UM student be impeded from studying about or in Israel and detail steps to ensure that faculty do not implement an academic boycott of Israel on campus.
The letter was submitted by the AMCHA Initiative, a group claiming to document anti-Semitic activity on college campuses.
Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American culture at UM, told the student in an email he was taking part in an academic boycott against Israel, and could no longer provide the recommendation.
After looking over the student’s request, Cheney-Lippold said he needed to rescind his initial support, noting at the time that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine.”
He later clarified in an email to The Ann Arbor News that he should have said “many university professors have pledged an academic boycott against Israel,” rather than university departments.
“Impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible,” the statement submitted by AMCHA reads.
“Individual faculty members have the right to express public support for an academic boycott of Israel. But when faculty like Prof. 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. Such discriminatory behavior that impedes the rights of students must be sanctioned to the fullest extent of university policy.”
After the university reiterated its position in opposition to any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education early last week, both Schlissel and members of the UM Board of Regents took time to address their displeasure with the remarks during the Sept. 20 regents meeting.
Personal views and politics should never interfere with support of students, Schlissel said.
“We are a large and diverse public university, and the individual opinions of our community range widely on many issues,” Schlissel said during the meeting. “But personal views and politics should never interfere with our support of students. It is counter to our values and expectations as an institution.
“I will state again – the University of Michigan strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The academic aspirations of our students and their academic freedom are fundamental to the University of Michigan and our teaching and research missions.”
Regent Denise Ilitch took it a step further, calling Cheney-Lippold’s remarks “anti-Semitic,” and completely against UM’s values.
“It impairs and it interferes with our student’s ability to reach her educational aspirations and further, this professor was the beneficiary of recommendations during his ascent to a tenured position at our university,” Ilitch said.
“Imagine replacing the phrase that was used in this letter — academic boycott against Israel and students planning to study there — with your ethnicity, your race or your gender, just to name a few. This is not who the University of Michigan is.”
He, the regents and other executive officers have engaged in addressing Cheney-Lippold’s actions and the questions it has raised, Schlissel said.
Cheney-Lippold said he has been in contact with the UM administration only to address the correction of his initial assertion that “university departments” were pledging an academic boycott, and his corrected view of “university professors” supporting the boycott.
The Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions movement is meant to put pressure on an Israeli government that, he argues, perpetuates “violence and dehumanization,” Cheney-Lippold said.
“For me, I see the boycott as a non-violent response to Palestinian (and also Israeli and other Jewish) activists and civil society who have called for international solidarity measures that pressure the Israeli state to move towards democratic rule, equal rights, and an end to the occupation of Palestine,” Cheney-Lippold wrote.