The University of Michigan on Monday moved to distance itself from a staff member who refused to send a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to study in Israel, saying that it opposes boycotts of the Jewish state.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor in the university’s Department of American Culture, had said he would write an undergraduate’s reference letter for a semester abroad program, but rescinded the offer after finding out she wanted to study in Israel.
In a statement released late Monday, the public university said it was unhappy with Cheney-Lippold’s actions.
“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.
The university said it “has consistently opposed any boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education.” “No academic department or any other unit at the University of Michigan has taken a position that departs from this long-held university position,” the statement read.
The statement did not mention Cheney-Lippold but said it would engage faculty in “in deep discussions to clarify how the expression of our shared values plays out in support of all students.”
“The academic goals of our students are of paramount importance. It is the university’s position to take all steps necessary to make sure our students are supported,” the school, among the country’s largest public universities, said.
In 2017, the school’s governing board of regents rejected a pro-BDS student government resolution calling for it to divest from Israeli companies or firms doing business with Israel.
“Our university has long been a community that seeks to study and improve the human condition through our research and scholarship,” six members of the board wrote in a statement at the time. “We work together to better understand the most complex challenges we face on campus and beyond. We do this work through active engagement in the world around us. To boycott, divest or sanction Israel offends these bedrock values of our great university.”
Cheney-Lippold did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an email obtained by The Times of Israel on Monday, Cheney-Lippold had notified the student, identified only as Abigail, that he had not known she was planning on studying in Israel when he agreed to write her a recommendation.
“I am very sorry, but I only scanned your first email a couple weeks ago and missed out on a key detail,” he wrote. “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.