58 Orgs Demand Michigan Pres Sanction Professors Implementing Academic Boycott of Israel, Call Pres Statement on Recent Incident 'Insufficient'
AMCHA Launches Grassroots Petition for University Stakeholders
Contact: Nicole Rosen
Santa Cruz, CA, September 21, 2018 – After a University of Michigan (U-M) professor agreed to write a recommendation for a student and then reneged when he realized it was for study in Israel, 58 groups demanded that U-M President Schlissel sanction all U-M professors who engage in that or similar discriminatory behavior, affirm that no U-M student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel, and detail steps to ensure that faculty do not implement an academic boycott of Israel on campus.
The full letter, organized by AMCHA Initiative, reads:
Dear President Schlissel,
We are 58 religious, civil rights and education advocacy groups writing to you about an incident of grave concern to our organizations and our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters.
Earlier this month a University of Michigan faculty member in the department of American Culture, Prof. John Cheney-Lippold, refused to write a letter of recommendation for one of his students applying to study abroad at Tel Aviv University. Cheney-Lippold unabashedly disclosed that the sole reason for his refusal is that the academic boycott guidelines forbid “writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study” in Israel.
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. 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.
We are aware that on 9/18/18 your office has issued a public statement reiterating the university’s opposition to the academic boycott of Israel and stating that the academic goals of U-M students "are of paramount importance" and that the university will “take all steps necessary to make sure our students are supported.” With all due respect, this statement is simply insufficient to assure students, their parents, and all other U-M stakeholders that you recognize the egregiousness of this incident. Of particular concern are the omission in your statement of any condemnation of Cheney-Lippold’s behavior and your statement acknowledging that “members of the University of Michigan community have a wide range of ‘individual’ opinions on this and many other topics.” 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. 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.
And while we appreciate your own remarks that were posted yesterday, in which you acknowledge that “personal views and politics should never interfere with our support of students,” these remarks, too, do not go far enough.
We therefore call on you to make a public statement specifically stating that this behavior will not be permitted, affirming your commitment to ensuring that no U-M student will be impeded from studying about or in Israel, and detailing the steps you will take to ensure that faculty do not implement an academic boycott of Israel at the University of Michigan.
AMCHA also launched a petition open to concerned citizens calling on all university leaders “to prevent the implementation of an academic boycott of Israel that directly instructs faculty to impede students’ rights.” The petition points out that “Faculty who have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel have long claimed that they are just expressing a political opinion about Israel, which is certainly their right. However, all faculty who endorse the academic boycott are condoning, and some are, in fact, committing to implement, the academic boycott’s official guidelines. These include working toward closing academic exchange programs in Israel; refusing to write letters of recommendation; and disrupting student- and faculty-organized educational activities about Israel or featuring Israeli scholars or leaders.” The petition urges “Presidents and Chancellors on U.S. campuses to publicly commit that they will safeguard the academic opportunities and educational experiences of all students by signing the University Leaders Statement Against the Implementation of an Academic Boycott of Israel.”
Research conducted last year by AMCHA revealed how faculty who boycott Israel increase the likelihood of anti-Semitism. Within the three academic disciplines examined, academic units with faculty boycotters were between five and twelve times more likely to sponsor events with BDS-supporting speakers, and the more BDS speakers, the more anti-Zionist expression, and the more anti-Semitism on campus.
AMCHA monitors more than 400 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity. It is the only organization that documents incidents in real time on its website for the public. AMCHA recorded 469 known anti-Semitic incidents in 2015, 639 in 2016, 652 in 2017, and 400 so far in 2018. Its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker, organized by state and university, can be viewed here.
AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States.