Michigan Professor Disciplined for Refusing to Write Recommendation for Study in Israel

A tenured professor, who refused to write a recommendation for a student who planned to study in Israel, was disciplined by the University of Michigan, and a second incident of an instructor refusing to write a similar letter was reported.

The Detroit News reported Tuesday the University of Michigan disciplined John Cheney-Lippold, who recently wrote to a student informing her that he would not write a letter of recommendation for her to study in Israel because doing so would violate the terms of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate Israel. The school subsequently issued a statement saying that it “has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education,” and criticized the professor for failing to offer proper “support” to the student.

According to a letter written by Elizabeth Cole, who is serving as the interim dean of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Cheney-Lippold will be barred from receiving a merit-based raise during the current school year, and will be unable to take a planned sabbatical in January, or any other sabbatical for two years.

The letter to Cheney-Lippold stated, “Your conduct has fallen far short of the University’s and College’s expectations for how LSA faculty interact with and treat students,” and warned him that any similar incidents in the future could lead to his dismissal.

“In the future, a student’s merit should be your primary guide for determining how and whether to provide a letter of recommendation. You are not to use student requests for recommendations as a platform to discuss your personal political beliefs,” the letter warned.

The Washington Post also reported that a teaching assistant, or graduate student instructor (GSI), as they are called in Michigan, informed a student that she would not write him a letter of recommendation to study at Tel Aviv University “as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine.”

In the second case, junior Jake Secker had reached out to GSI Lucy Peterson for a recommendation to study abroad. When Secker, whose father is Israeli, and who has visited Israel several times, told Peterson that he sought to study at Tel Aviv University, she wrote that she was “sorry” but that “along with numerous other academics in the US and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine.”

Secker told the Post that he knew Abigail Ingber, who had been refused a recommendation by Cheney-Lippold, adding “I was completely in shock. I didn’t think it would happen again.”

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