January 21, 2019

Students and Groups Protest U-M for Disciplining Professor

Several groups and University of Michigan students are protesting the university’s decision to discipline Professor John Cheney-Lippold for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel.

According to Middle East Eye, students marched and chanted pro-Palestinian slogans such as “no justice, no peace” and handed letters to University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel’s and Social Science Dean Elizabeth Cole’s offices decrying the university’s discipline of Cheney-Lippold. The students are threatening to host a sit-in at Schlissel’s floor if he doesn’t respond to their letter in three-to-five days.

Additionally, groups such as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) called the university’s actions against Cheney-Lippold a violation of academic freedom.

“We regard your decision to arbitrarily impose disciplinary sanctions on Professor Cheney-Lippold, without affording him any opportunity to explain or justify his action in a fair hearing process with faculty participation, as having violated those principles and that right, as well as your university’s ostensible commitment to faculty governance,” MESA President Judith Tucker told the university in a letter.

As the Journal has reported, Cheney-Lippold will not be eligible for a salary increase this year and will be unable to obtain sabbatical credits until 2020.

However, some pro-Israel groups, such as The Lawfare Project, have criticized the university for not going far enough in their handling of recent controversies.

The Lawfare Project noted in a recent memo to Schlissel that the university has yet to discipline teaching assistant Lucy Peterson, who also refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel and wrote an op-ed defending her actions, and was dismissive of a slide in a required lecture that compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

Additionally, the memo called on the university to investigate their academic personnel to ensure they aren’t engaging in academic boycotts against Israel and to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Student reactions at a recent Board of Regents meeting were mixed, according to the Michigan Daily:

Irving Ginsberg, a Farmington Hills resident, said he felt the letter was an example of anti-Semitism on campus. He said he felt the University had failed to sufficiently punish Cheney-Lippold, and on-campus discrimination continued to occur because of the insufficient response.

“The administration and President Schlissel only acted (weakly) to Professor Lippold’s violation because of widespread national criticism, in contrast to the quick and decisive actions when other minority groups are so treated,” Ginsberg said. “With regard to Lippold’s behavior, only one regent called it what it was, ‘anti-Semitism’ … Not one other regent, nor President Schlissel, nor the administration did the same.”

Another speaker on the issue was West Bloomfield resident Ed Kohl, who said he disapproved of Cheney-Lippold’s actions, but was more appreciative of the stance taken by University President Mark Schlissel and the University. In his speech, he commended past efforts by the University to stamp out anti-Semitism, and said he knew the University would respond adequately on this occasion as well.

“Anti-Jewish bias has a long history in American universities,” Kohl said. “During that history, this University has been a beacon of enlightenment that has well-served Jews and the University itself … The latest outrage is supplied by recommendation-denying graduate instructor Lucy Peterson. Her job is not the pursuit of truth — she proclaims — but is what she called ‘social justice pedagogy.’ Social justice pedagogy is not education. It is blatant propaganda, ideology and indoctrination.”

Schlissel has stated that the university is opposed to all academic boycotts against Israel in an apology to Jewish students.