The letter was coordinated by the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to investigating, documenting and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America.
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 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.
Academic Council for Israel
Accuracy in Academia
Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi)
Alums for Campus Fairness - National
Alums for Campus Fairness - Swarthmore
Alums for Campus Fairness - UC Davis
Alums for Campus Fairness - UC Riverside
Alums for Campus Fairness - UCLA
American Council of Trustees and Alumni
American Institute for Jewish Research
American Truth Project
Americans for Peace and Tolerance
Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA)
BEAR: Bias Education, Advocacy & Resources
Campus Anti-Semitism Task Force of the North Shore
Center for Righteousness and Integrity
Christians and Jews United for Israel
Coalition for Jewish Values
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
CUFI on Campus
Davis Faculty for Israel
Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)
Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel
Iranian American Jewish Federation
Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization
Israel Peace Initiative (IPI)
Israeli-American Civic Education Institute
Middle East Forum
Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN)
National Conference on Jewish Affairs
National Council of Young Israel
Proclaiming Justice to the Nations
Religious Zionists of America
Rhode Island Coalition for Israel
Russian Jewish Community Foundation
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Stop BDS on Campus
Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism
Students Supporting Israel National
Students Supporting Israel at Columbia
Students Supporting Israel at UCLA
The Israel Christian Nexus
The Lawfare Project
Tufts Friends of Israel
World Jewish Congress, American Section
Zionist Organization of America
ZOA’s Fuel for Truth
Cc: University of Michigan Board of Regents
Special Counsel to the President Liz Barry