September 21, 2018
VIA EMAIL: [email protected]
Dr. Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.
President University of Michigan
2074 Fleming Administration Building 503
Thompson Street Ann Arbor,
RE: Disciplinary Action Urged Against Professor John Cheney-Lippold for Discriminatory Conduct
Dear President Schlissel, We write to you on behalf of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit, Israel education organization and Alums for Campus Fairness, a non-profit organization that brings together alumni to combat anti-Semitism on campus. We are deeply concerned by a discriminatory email written to a student by John Cheney-Lippold, a University of Michigan Associate Professor. This email promotes the discriminatory academic boycott campaign against Israel and rescinds an offer to write a letter of recommendation for a University of Michigan student to attend a study abroad program in Israel. In doing so, Mr. Cheney-Lippold adversely affected the educational environment of Jewish students and others at the University of Michigan who may wish to study abroad in Israel.
By refusing to write the letter of recommendation, Mr. Cheney-Lippold hindered a Jewish student’s ability to participate fully in the university community based on her desire to study in the homeland of the Jewish people. Mr. Cheney-Lippold’s conduct is discriminatory and effectively marginalizes Jewish students based on their religion and Israeli students based on their national origin at the University of Michigan. Due to his actions, many of them may be less willing to ask for letters of recommendation from their professors for fear of being rejected due to political bias and prejudice, rather than academic qualifications.
We commend your administration for repeated statements condemning BDS, as well as the University’s Board of Trustees’ firm rejection of BDS. We agree that “academic boycotts violate the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.” At the same time, mere engagement and dialogue — as mentioned in your statement on September 17, 2018, and notably omitted from your revised statement on September 18, 2018 — are insufficient. Dialogue is an important tool, but only after a wrong has been righted. As you state, Mr. Cheney-Lippold’s insertion of personal politics in his decision not to write this letter of recommendation runs counter to the University of Michigan’s “values and expectations as an institution.” Moreover, Mr. CheneyLippold’s conduct violates University of Michigan polices and his discriminatory conduct may subject the University to a federal investigation, as occurred in a similar situation at Texas Tech University. While we are pleased to hear that the administration is deeply engaged in reviewing this incident, as noted in your remarks on September 20, 2018, we encourage your administration to fully investigate this matter promptly and discipline this professor appropriately.
Violation of Michigan’s Discrimination Policy
The University of Michigan’s faculty handbook Discrimination and Harassment Policy states:
It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination and harassment for all students, faculty, and staff. Discrimination and harassment are contrary to the standards of the University community. They diminish individual dignity and impede educational opportunities, equal access to freedom of academic inquiry, and equal employment. Discrimination and harassment are barriers to fulfilling the University’s scholarly, research, educational, patient care, and service mission.
Discrimination and harassment based on race, sex, color, religion, national origin, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, or veteran status will not be tolerated at the University of Michigan. See SPG 201.89-1.
The University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guide 201.89-1, referenced in the faculty handbook’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy, defines discrimination as: Co
nduct that is based upon an individual’s race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight or veteran’s status that:
1. Adversely affects a term or condition of an individual’s employment, education, living environment or participation in a University activity;
2. is used as the basis for or a factor in decisions affecting that individual’s employment, education, living environment or participation in a University activity; or
3. has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s employment or educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive environment for that individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a University activity.
As stated above, Mr. Cheney-Lippold’s email discriminates against Jewish students based on their religion, Israeli students based on their national origin and others at the University of Michigan who wish to study in Israel. Furthermore, his refusal to write a letter ofrecommendation based on his support of a discriminatory academic boycott adversely affected a student’s education at the university. As you know, studying abroad is an enriching educational opportunity and a vital service offered to University of Michigan students. Mr. Cheney-Lippold is creating an “intimidating, hostile, [and] offensive” education environment for this student, which unreasonably interferes with her “participation in a University activity,” in violation of university policy.
There is ample precedent for disciplining both tenured and non-tenured professors for professional misconduct in similar situations.
At Rutgers University, tenured professor Michael Chikindas was severely disciplined by the Rutgers administration after he posted anti-Semitic rants on his Facebook page. Among other disciplinary measures, Chikindas lost his position as the director of a university institute and was barred from teaching required classes.
At Oberlin College, the administration removed Professor Joy Karega from her position as a Rhetoric and Composition professor after she spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online.
Most recently, at William Paterson College, the administration suspended longtime Sociology Professor Clyde Magarelli after videos surfaced of him espousing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in class. Like these professors, Mr. Cheney-Lippold should face an investigation and repercussions for his bigoted and discriminatory conduct. We urge your administration to take appropriate responsive actions, and hope that your response sends a clear message to your entire campus community and alumni that there is no place for discriminatory conduct at the University of Michigan.
Anti-Semitism related to Israel Throughout Jewish history, the Jewish people lived in and maintained a strong connection to the land of Israel and have yearned for a return to Israel/Zion, their ancestral Jewish homeland. Today, the Jewish people are able to fulfill their inalienable rights to self-determination due to the existence of the State of Israel. As such, the definition of anti-Semitism accepted by the organized Jewish community, EU, Canada, and US Department of Education includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and “applying double standards” to Israel. Mr. Cheney Lippold’s actions fall under this definition because the academic boycott campaign effectively seeks to strip Jews of their right to self-determination in Israel, and because he indicates that he is willing to write letters of recommendation to study in any nation other than Israel.
In conclusion, thank you for your prompt attention to this concerning matter. We look forward to your response.
Executive Director Alums for Campus Fairness
Director StandWithUs Legal Department