The Arab-American Civil Rights League has issued a statement in response to the University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold’s rescinded offer to write a recommendation letter for LSA junior Abigail Ingber, who hoped to study abroad in Israel.
Early last week, a Facebook post of a screenshot of an email conversation between Cheney-Lippold and Ingber circulated in which Cheney-Lippold cited an academic boycott of Israel as justification to deny Ingber a recommendation letter for study abroad programs in Israel.
Throughout the week, various student and community organizations responded to the story. Some supported Ingber, and others supported Cheney-Lippold and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
In years prior, BDS has been a prevalent issue across campus and with extensive Central Student Government involvement. In November, CSG passed a resolution that called for the University to investigate divestment from Israeli companies and oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Though the resolution passed, the University’s Board of Regents issued a statement a month later, rejecting the consideration of the resolution.
The ACRL expressed support for the BDS movement in their statement, stating its roots in civil rights. ACRL also says the University infringed on professors’ rights to free speech and expression of public support for the academic boycott of Israel.
“The ACRL will always stand by any effort to deter and prohibit discrimination, but it does take a firm stance against efforts to suppress free speech,” the statement reads. “And while we understand your position acknowledging that ‘personal views and politics should never interfere with our support of students,’ individual faculty members have the right to express public support for an academic boycott of Israel, and that right is no less important than a student’s preference in education.”
The ACRL urged the University to reconsider its stance on the BDS movement and support students and faculty who agree with the movement.
“We, therefore, call on you to affirm your commitment to the constitutional freedoms of the student body and faculty at the University, and ensure that no person will be deterred or silenced from engaging in free political speech,” the statement reads. “We further ask you to ensure that no actions are taken to impede faculty’s ability to engage in an academic boycott of Israel at the University of Michigan.”
Many of the community responses to Cheney-Lippold’s email have been critical of University President Mark Schlissel’s statement on the incident. The University’s chapter of College Republicans issued a public statement Sept. 17, claiming Schlissel’s address of the situation was out of touch and didn’t reflect the true actions being taken by the University to silence students with diverse viewpoints.
“As president of College Republicans at the University of Michigan, it is my responsibility to advocate for students like Abigail who have been discriminated against in large part due to University President Schlissel’s remarks,” Chapter President Dylan Berger wrote. “If President Schlissel is serious about restoring intellectual diversity on campus, he will terminate Professor John Cheney-Lippold and retract his remarks that ostracized a significant portion of the student body of the of the university that he claims to lead.”
In support of Cheney-Lippold, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a Palestinian solidarity organization at the University, released a statement supporting students and faculty who choose to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
“We support and affirm Professor John Cheney-Lippold’s right to boycott Israel,” the SAFE statement reads. “His actions are the same demanded by Palestinian civil society, and serve to recognize and resist forces committing human rights violations. To punish Professor Cheney-Lippold for his actions would curtail his own academic agency.”
Representatives of the University and the American Culture Department were contacted for comment, but did not respond by the time of publication.