A University of Michigan professor is under fire for refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a student hoping to study in Israel, citing his commitment to the academic boycott of Israel espoused by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, i24news reported Tuesday.
A screenshot circulated over social media of an email sent by John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor in the university’s Department of American Culture, in which he rescinds a previous offer to write an undergraduate student named Abigail a reference letter for a semester abroad program in Israel has sparked outrage.
“Abigail, I am very sorry, but I only scanned your first email a couple weeks ago and missed out on a key detail,” the professor wrote.
“As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine. This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there,” he added.
“I should have let you know earlier, and for that I apologize. But for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter,” he continued.
The professor informed the student that he would be “happy” to write recommendations for programs in other countries.
ADL chairman Jonathan Greenblatt criticized the incident and called on the University of Michigan to make clear that it does not, as an institution, support the BDS movement or boycotts of Israel.
“Not acceptable. A student striving to learn and further their education should never be a victim of political bias. The University needs to publicly clarify it opposes the academic boycott of Israel,” he tweeted.
The university on Monday sought to distance itself from the professor's position, saying in a statement that it "has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education" though it did not mention Cheney-Lippold by name.
“The University of Michigan has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. That position has been stated publicly by university leaders, including this statement from the president and provost in 2013 and this statement from members of the university’s governing Board of Regents in 2017,” the statement said.
It further noted that “[t]he academic goals of our students are of paramount importance. It is the university’s position to take all steps necessary to make sure our students are supported.”
“It is disappointing that a faculty member would allow their personal political beliefs to limit the support they are willing to otherwise provide for our students,” the statement continued. “We will engage our faculty colleagues in deep discussions to clarify how the expression of our shared values plays out in support of all students.”
In recent years, dozens of states – including Michigan – have passed legislation against the BDS movement. Among the other states to have approved similar laws: New York, California, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Montana, Kansas, Arizona and Virginia.
BDS, however, remains a concern in US campuses. A recent study revealed a close connection between the activities of lecturers who support boycotts against Israel in a certain institution and a sharp rise in anti-Semitism in the same institution.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Yom Kippur in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)