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Statements on Professor Who Wouldn't Write Recommendation

October 17, 2018
 
 

The American Association of University Professors’ Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance sent a letter to the University of Michigan’s president on Tuesday expressing concern that the university did not seem to have followed AAUP standards in punishing a tenured professor who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to study abroad in Israel. The professor, John Cheney-Lippold, cited his support for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions in declining to write the letter.

The Detroit News reported last week that Michigan punished Cheney-Lippold by denying him a merit raise for 2018-19 and making him ineligible to go on a planned sabbatical in January or any other sabbatical for two years. The sanctions were outlined in a letter the paper obtained from Elizabeth Cole, the interim dean of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts, in which she described Cheney-Lippold’s behavior as inappropriate and said he could face further punishment, including dismissal, if he were to engage in similar behavior in the future.

The AAUP’s letter said that it appeared the process for disciplining Cheney-Lippold did not conform to association-supported standards requiring faculty involvement in the imposition of severe sanctions against faculty. The letter also expressed concern that Cole’s letter “appears to misrepresent AAUP-supported standards of academic freedom” related to the introduction of material unrelated to the course subject in faulting Cheney-Lippold for discussing the boycott in two class sessions.

The Middle East Studies Association's Committee on Academic Freedom also sent a letter to Cole expressing its concerns about Cheney-Lippold's punishment. The letter said the committee regarded the "decision to punish Professor Cheney-Lippold for acting on the basis of his convictions and exercising his discretion as a faculty member as a distressing and dangerous violation of his academic freedom."

Michigan declined to comment on the two letters. A spokesman said the university would respond to the AAUP directly and that it had not yet received the letter from the Middle East studies group. In an Oct. 9 statement, Mark S. Schlissel, Michigan’s president, and Martin A. Philbert, the provost, said, “Withholding letters of recommendation based on personal views does not meet our university’s expectations for supporting the academic aspirations of our students. Conduct that violates this expectation and harms students will not be tolerated and will be addressed with serious consequences.”

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