October 17, 2018

U Mich President Apologizes to Jewish Students Over Recent Controversies

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Mark Schlissel, the president of the University of Michigan, apologized to Jewish students in a letter sent out to the university community over the recent controversies on campus.

Schlissel first addressed the two instructors, professor John Cheney-Lippold and graduate student instructor Lucy Peterson, who refused to write letters of recommendations to students who wanted to study abroad in Israel.

Refusing to write letters of recommendation for political reasons violates university policy, Schlissel stated.

“U-M strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and no school, college, department or unit at our university endorses such a boycott,” Schlissel said. “Our view is that educators at a public university have an obligation to support students’ academic growth, and we expect anyone with instructional responsibilities to honor this fundamental university value. Our students deserve to be afforded all of the opportunities they have earned through their academic merit.”

Schlissel added that the university has established “a panel of distinguished faculty members to examine the intersection between political thought/ideology and faculty members’ responsibilities to students.”

The university is also apologized to the two Jewish students who were denied letters and is helping the two students gather everything they need to complete their applications to study abroad in Israel.

On the matter of the required lecture that featured a slide comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, Schlissel noted that the speaker, former Black Panther member Emory Douglas, was invited to campus to discuss his artwork.

“Israel was not singled out here as imagery critical of many other political leaders was also a part of the talk,” Schlissel said. “This was the point of the talk itself – that imagery can be a powerful component of movements aimed at social justice.”

However, Schlissel acknowledged that it was understandable why students would be offended at the Netanyahu-Hitler analogy.

“We are sorry students were hurt by this experience,” Schlissel said.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) praised Schlissel’s statement in a tweet:

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, also praised Schlissel’s statement as well as the university’s decision to discipline Cheney-Lippold in an email to the Journal: 

“We commend President Schlissel for his strong statement and the welcomed disciplinary measures taken against Cheney-Lippold. We are pleased that U-M has recognized the serious harm that an academic boycott’s implementation causes its own students. U-M has shown leadership in curbing this discriminatory behavior and stood up for all of its students’ civil and academic rights with this precedent. While the public discussion started with one student sharing her misguided professor’s actions, there are more than two dozen U-M professors who have expressed public support for the academic boycott. The problem is bigger than just John Cheney-Lippold, as further evidenced by recent reports of a second, nearly identical incident that harmed another student. We fully commend U-M for the steps taken thus far to discipline Cheney-Lippold, and for establishing a panel that we hope will lead to a clear and comprehensive policy on professors who attempt to use their professional positions to push a personal, political agenda.  Hundreds of faculty serving on U.S. campuses have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel.  We hope other university presidents will follow President Schlissel’s leadership.”