The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor announced that it is banning professors from refusing to write letters of recommendation for pro-Israel students because of their opposing political views.
The decision came after a number of professors – including University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold – rejected requests to write letters of recommendation for students seeking to study abroad in Israel, noting their allegiance to the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment Sanction movement that takes the side of the Palestinians in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.
“I am very sorry, but I only scanned your first email a couple weeks ago and missed out on a key detail,” Cheney-Lippold wrote to the student last month in an email, according to Breitbart News. “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.”
Pro-Palestinian prof trend
In a more recent incident that took place last week, another undergrad looking to study abroad in Israel had his request for a letter of recommendation rejected by a different pro-Palestinian faculty member.
“An instructor at the University of Michigan went back on her commitment last week to provide a letter of recommendation for a student after learning that the undergraduate’s destination for a study-abroad program was Israel – the second such case on the Ann Arbor, Mich., campus in the past month,” The Washington Post reported. “The incidents expose vexed questions about free speech and the role of academics as colleges and universities become battlegrounds in the movement known as BDS – for boycott, divestment and sanctions.”
The student’s ties and devotion to Israel automatically disqualified him from receiving the instructor’s support.
“Jake Secker is a 20-year-old junior from Great Neck, New York, [whose] father is Israeli, and [the student] has made five trips to the nation he considers his ‘home away from home,’ but since he was a young boy, he has longed for something more – actually living in Israel for a stretch of time,” the Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker noted. “This winter, a semester abroad at Tel Aviv University could fulfill that aspiration, he hopes.”
Secker asked a graduate student instructor (GSI) acting as a teaching assistant for a reference to apply to the program.
“I am in need of an academic letter of recommendation to study abroad next semester, and if you can do that for me, that would be greatly appreciated,” he wrote on October 1, according to the Post.
The teaching assistant, Lucy Peterson, initially replied that she would be “totally delighted” to write the letter, but followed up by asking what program Secker was applying for. When he replied that he was seeking to study at Tel Aviv University in Israel, she quickly and unhesitatingly reneged her promise to be a reference.
“I’m so sorry that I didn’t ask before agreeing to write your recommendation letter, but I regrettably will not be able to write on your behalf,” Peterson explained, according to the Post. “Along with numerous other academics in the U.S. and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine. Please know that this decision is not about you as a student or a person, and I would be happy to write a recommendation for you if you end up applying to other programs.”
Even though many faculty members stand in unison against Israel and students who support the Middle Eastern nation, their personal convictions and ties to pro-Palestinian organizations – including Cheney-Lippold’s – to support the Islamic terrorist-run Palestinian government have been credited for their rejection of students who are not on board the BDS movement.
“[Cheney-Lippold] clari[fied] that while his department doesn’t have an official position on BDS, his commitment to boycott Israeli state institutions stems from his membership in the American Studies Association, which voted in 2013 to endorse the movement,” Stanley-Becker noted. “BDS seeks the end of Israeli occupation of ‘all Arab lands,’ the full equality of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and ‘the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.’”
No more faculty anti-Semitism toward students
University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel issued an announcement this week stating that it is unacceptable for professors on campus to withhold recommendation letters based on a student’s personal beliefs that are not in alignment with faculty members’ political worldviews.
“Two U-M students were recently denied promised letters of recommendation for academic programs based on the personal views of two individuals with instructional responsibilities,” Schlissel informed in a University of Michigan statement published Tuesday. “The students were applying to study in Israel. Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students.”
He indicated that university staff is prohibited from acting in a way that inhibits students from feeling free to see the campus as a marketplace of ideas – without experiencing intolerance or punishment for their political views.
“Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences,” Schlissel continued. “Such actions interfere with our students’ opportunities, violate their academic freedom and betray our university’s educational mission. We will work to make absolutely clear that faculty members’ personal political beliefs cannot interfere with their obligations to our students with regard to letter-writing and all other modes of academic support.”
The president is also taking action steps to make sure that students do not experience similar anti-Semitic incidents on campus in the future.
“Schlissel also announced the creation of a faculty panel that will examine the relationship between the faculty’s political beliefs and their commitment to students,” Breitbart’s Tom Ciccotta pointed out.