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University Punishes Professor Who Refused to Write Reference for Student to Study Abroad in Israel

10-10-2018

The University of Michigan is punishing the professor who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to study abroad in Israel.

John Cheney-Lippold, a digital studies associate professor, will not get a merit raise during the 2018-19 academic year and cannot go on his upcoming sabbatical in January or another sabbatical for two years, according The Detroit News.

The paper received a signed letter from Elizabeth Cole, the interim dean of UM's College of Literature, Science and the Arts, detailing his punishment. Cheney-Lippold could face additional discipline, including dismissal if a similar incident occurs in the future.

"Your conduct has fallen far short of the University's and College's expectations for how LSA faculty interact with and treat students," Cole's letter said. "This letter is a strong warning that your behavior in this circumstance was inappropriate and will not be tolerated."

"In the future, a student's merit should be your primary guide for determining how and whether to provide a letter of recommendation. You are not to use student requests for recommendations as a platform to discuss your personal political beliefs."

The disciplinary actions came after Cheney-Lippold offered to write a letter of recommendation for one of his students to study abroad. However, he revoked his offer when he found out she wanted to study in Israel.

"I am very sorry, but I only scanned your first email a couple weeks ago and missed out on a key detail," he wrote the student in an email that went viral on social media. "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."

The University of Michigan immediately condemned Cheney-Lippold's actions and reiterated its rejection of boycotts, sanctions, and divestments (BDS) against individual countries and people.

"It is disappointing that a faculty member would allow their personal political beliefs to limit the support they are willing to otherwise provide for our students," the school said in a statement.

However, a second UM student now accuses a professor of denying them a letter of recommendation to study in Israel, according to The Washington Post.

Jake Secker asked Lucy Peterson, a graduate student instructor, for a letter of recommendation to study in Israel. However, she denied the student's request and vowed to boycott Israel in an effort to support Palestinians.

According to Michigan Daily, Rosario Ceballo, LSA associate dean for Social Sciences, reached out to Secker and offered to write the letter of recommendation herself.

This two incidences are not the only times UM has battle BDS.

Last November, a pro-BDS resolution passed the student government, but the university's board of regents rejected the proposal, saying they "strongly oppose any action involving the boycott, divestment or sanction of Israel.

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