August 18, 2019

Jewish Groups Call for Disciplinary Action Against Michigan Professor

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Myriad Jewish groups are calling for University of Michigan Professor John Cheney-Lippold to be disciplined for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel.

In a Friday letter organized by the AMCHA Initiative, 58 Jewish groups, including World Jewish Congress, The Lawfare Project and the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, said that recent statements from University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the university were insufficient.

“Impeding a student’s ability to participate in a university-approved educational program in order to carry out political activism is reprehensible. Individual faculty members have the right to express public support for an academic boycott of Israel,” the letter states. “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.”

The letter added that the Wednesday statement from the university, saying they were “disappointed” in Cheney-Lippold, but didn’t actually condemn Cheney-Lippold’s actions and gave credence to the various opinions held by professors at the university.

“Both your omission and inclusion give the impression that individual U-M professors will be permitted by your administration to discriminate against students wanting to study about and in Israel,” the letter states. “This is deeply alarming, given that there are at least two dozen U-M faculty members in a number of departments who have expressed public support for the academic boycott of Israel, including seven faculty members currently serving as chairs and directors of U-M academic departments and programs. Left unaddressed, this isolated incident could lead to unchecked discrimination, and the denial to students of their fundamental rights.”

Additionally,  in a Friday press release, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called for the Department of Education to investigate the matter, as well as for the university to discipline in the professor.

“This goes well beyond criticizing Israel, disagreeing with Israeli policy or even a personal boycott of Israel, which is despicable but a protected right,” Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said. “Jewish students are being punished for their affinity with Israel. In denying the letter of recommendation purely on his dislike of Israel and using a double standard to justify it, Cheney-Lippold has egregiously violated this young woman’s civil rights.”

Cooper asked if Cheney-Lippold would ever refuse to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in China or Pakistan, calling it “a gross hypocrisy.”

“Jewish students need protection from the likes of Cheney-Lippold and the academic bigotry he practices,” Cooper said. “University of Michigan and other great universities must hold anti-Semitic civil rights violators accountable for undermining the academy’s core mission.”

StandWithUs and Alums for Campus Fairness also sent a letter to Schlissel arguing that Cheney-Lippold should be disciplined based on the university’s policies.

“Mr. Cheney-Lippold’s email discriminates against Jewish students based on their religion, Israeli students based on their national origin and others at the University of Michigan who wish to study in Israel,” the letter states. “Furthermore, his refusal to write a letter of recommendation based on his support of a discriminatory academic boycott adversely affected a student’s education at the university. As you know, studying abroad is an enriching educational opportunity and a vital service offered to University of Michigan students. Mr. Cheney-Lippold is creating an ‘intimidating, hostile, [and] offensive’ education environment for this student, which unreasonably interferes with her’“participation in a University activity,’ in violation of university policy.”