'U' creates panel affirming opposition to faculty boycott of Israel

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 5:07pm

On Tuesday, the University of Michigan Office of the President released a letter addressing concerns of anti-Semitism following reports of two U-M instructors refusing to write letters of recommendation for students wishing to study abroad in Israel and a controversial lecture given last week in the Penny Stamps Speaker Series.

The University’s letter, signed by University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martin A. Philbert, affirms the University’s opposition to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and assures the instructors’ actions are being addressed through current U-M policy.

“Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students,” the letter read. “Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences. Such actions interfere with our students’ opportunities, violate their academic freedom and betray our university’s educational mission.”

The University is currently taking steps to discipline American Culture Associate professor John Cheney-Lippold, the first instructor to deny a letter of recommendation, a letter obtained by The Daily confirmed. The letter, written by Interim LSA Dean Elizabeth Cole and addressed to Cheney-Lippold, states he will not be eligible for a salary increase in the 2018-2019 school year and his sabbatical credits will be frozen for two years.

The Office of the President letter also announced the University has created a panel of faculty to “examine the intersection between political thought/ideology and faculty members’ responsibilities to students.” The panel will be chaired by President Emeritus James Duderstadt, a professor of science and engineering.

The letter outlined the goals of the panel, which include reviewing current university policy, examining similar policies of peer institutions and gathering stakeholder input. Ultimately, the panel is supposed to give recommendations on how to clarify existing policy or create new policy that better addresses how faculty should balance their personal views with their responsibilities to students.

The letter also addressed a Penny Stamps Speaker Series presentation given by Emory Douglas, an artist for the Black Panther Party in 1967 through the 1980s. On one slide of his presentation, he displayed images of Adolf Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying they both had committed genocide.

The University stated Israel was not singled out, as the presentation included imagery critical of other political leaders, and the ideas of speakers are not always reflective of those of the University. However, it extended an apology to those offended.

“Hitler and the genocide that he led, however, represent a horrific level of evil with few if any parallels in human history,” the letter read. “We understand how these images are offensive, particularly in this case to Jewish students. We are sorry students were hurt by this experience.”