UMich punishes prof who denied Israel recommendation

Tenured UMich professor John Cheney-Lippold will not get a merit raise for the 2018-2019 school year and will not be able to take a sabbatical for two years.

A University of Michigan professor refused to write a student's recommendation to study abroad in Israel, citing his participation in a boycott of the country.

A UMich TA also backtracked on her initial agreement to write a student's recommendation to study abroad upon learning that the student planned to study in Israel, but the university would not tell Campus Reform whether she would be sanctioned.

The University of Michigan punished a professor for going back on his commitment to write a student a recommendation to study in Israel and plans to review its policy pertaining to academic boycotts.

Tenured UMich professor John Cheney-Lippold will not get a merit raise for the 2018-2019 school year, The Detroit News reported. UMich also rejected Cheney-Lippold’s upcoming January sabbatical and forbade the professor from taking a sabbatical for two years.

“A student’s merit should be your primary guide for determining how and whether to provide a letter of recommendation,” UMich College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Interim Dean Elizabeth Cole wrote in an October letter to the professor. 

”You are not to use student requests for recommendations as a platform to discuss your personal political beliefs,” Cole continued. “This letter is a strong warning that your behavior in this circumstance was inappropriate and will not be tolerated.”

[RELATED: College: Prof’s refusal to write Israel letter ‘disappointing’]

But Cheney-Lippold was not the only faculty member to go back on his decision to recommend a student after finding out that the student chose to study in Israel.

UMich teaching assistant Lucy Peterson did so, as well, according to The Washington Post.

“I’m so sorry that I didn’t ask before agreeing to write your recommendation letter, but I regrettably will not be able to write on your behalf,” she told the student in an email. “Along with numerous other academics in the U.S. and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine.”

“The matter you reference involves a graduate student instructor and an undergraduate student,” UMich spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen told Campus Reform. “Since they both are students, the university is precluded by federal law from discussing student matters.”

The University also created a panel to investigate and recommend changes to school policy so that it is clear that faculty members cannot discriminate against students based on political beliefs. The panel will examine other institutions’ policies and seek input from UMich stakeholders, according to a Tuesday letter UMich President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martin Philbert sent to the campus community.

[RELATED: UMich claims free speech lawsuit has ‘mistaken premises’]

“Today is a proud day to be a Michigan Wolverine,” WolvPAC, a student-led pro-Israel political advocacy group at UMich, said on Facebook following the school’s initial condemnation of the incident. “In the face of anti-Israel bias, our university quickly issued this response reinforcing its stance against boycotts of Israel. At a University that fosters having an open-mind and promotes strong dialogue, we are proud that the University took an action that opens doors for academic opportunity, rather than closes them.”

Another pro-Israel group, Michigan Hillel, also showed its support for the university’s actions.

“We appreciate that the University is strongly upholding its student-centered values and reinforcing its opposition to boycotts against Israeli institutions,” the group’s executive director, Tilley Shames, told The Detroit News.

“I appreciate President Schlissel’s recognition of the effect these incidents have had on the Jewish community and I hope that by working together we can create a more positive learning environment for all students,”  Michigan Hillel’s Israel Community Coordinator Alex Harris told Campus Reform.

[RELATED: UMich ignored federal guidance in dismissing Title IX complaint]

But some students and groups supported the professor.

“We support and affirm Professor John Cheney-Lippold’s right to boycott Israel,” UMich Palestinian solidarity group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) chapter said in a statement. “To punish Professor Cheney-Lippold for his actions would curtail his own academic agency.”  

An “Alumni Signatures” document has garnered more than 200 names supporting the professor, reported.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @SergeiKelley