The University of Michigan doesn’t support a boycott of Israel and those professors on its campus who do can’t refuse to write letters of recommendation for students who wish to study there, U-M President Mark Schlissel said in a message to the campus community Wednesday morning.
“Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students,” Schlissel wrote in the letter, which was also signed by Provost Martin Philbert. “Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences. Such actions interfere with our students’ opportunities, violate their academic freedom and betray our university’s educational mission.”
The lengthy note comes as the university took disciplinary action against one professor for refusing to write a recommendation letter for a student.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at UM, is no longer eligible for a merit pay increase for the 2018-19 academic year, according to various media reports.
The university has also frozen his sabbatical eligibility for two years, until the fall of 2020. Cheney had scheduled a sabbatical for the winter 2019 and will now have to wait until fall of 2020 to take it, those reports said.
Cheney-Lippold originally told a student he would write the letter, then wrote the student back saying he couldn’t write it because he was involved in a boycott of Israel in support of Palestinians.
Since then, a second student has come forward to say another U-M professor said they wouldn’t write a letter of support for the student for the same reason.
U-M has also drawn heavy fire for a recent speaker at a campus lecture.
Naftali Bennett, the minister responsible for education and diaspora affairs, admonished university President Mark Schlissel over a lecture last week at the Ann Arbor school. In it, artist Emory Douglas shared his work, including a collage of side-by-side images of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler and the phrase “guilty of genocide” across their faces.
“The time has come for you as head of the University to make a strong stand against what has clearly become a trend of vitriolic hatred against the Jewish state on your campus,” Bennett wrote to Schlissel.
Schlissel’s letter addressed both those issues.
“We want everyone in our Jewish community and beyond to know that we are committed to upholding an equitable and inclusive environment where everyone is given a chance to succeed and pursue the academic opportunities they have earned,” the letter said. “As we have 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. 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.”
He said the university is creating a panel to look at the issue of how professor’s personal beliefs should intersect with their responsibilities to students.
The letter went on to say the university, in order to provide a full education, has to let all views on campus.
“The image that offended a number of our students was on a single slide among nearly 200 other slides that were presented over the course of an hour,” the letter said. “Israel was not singled out here as imagery critical of many other political leaders was also a part of the talk. This was the point of the talk itself —
that imagery can be a powerful component of movements aimed at social justice.
“Hitler and the genocide that he led, however, represent a horrific level of evil with few if any parallels in human history. We understand how these images are offensive, particularly in this case to Jewish students. We are sorry students were hurt by this experience.
“Our ongoing commitment to our students, the communities we serve, and to each other is to listen, think, and act with respect, recognizing that each of us has something to contribute and that we all have much to learn.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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