Photo Credit: UM Public Affairs
Interim Dean of UM’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Elizabeth R. Cole

The American Jewish Committee on Wednesday issued a statement congratulating the University of Michigan administration on its decision to bring disciplinary actions against John Cheney-Lippold, a tenured American and digital studies associate professor who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student applying to study in Israel.

AJC’s affiliate in Detroit, the JCRC/AJC: A Partnership for Community Relations and Jewish Advocacy, led by David Kurzmann, has been deeply involved with the University of Michigan’s consideration of the Cheney-Lippold case.

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Elizabeth Cole, the interim dean of UM’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, wrote the anti-Israeli professor: “Your conduct has fallen far short of the University’s and College’s expectations for how LSA faculty interact with and treat students. […] 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.”

John Cheney-Lippold will not receive a merit raise during the 2018-19 academic year and can’t go on his upcoming sabbatical in January or another sabbatical for two years.

“The University of Michigan has made it clear that educating students is its top priority, that it will not tolerate this type of inappropriate behavior that hinders a student’s education,” said Seffi Kogen, AJC’s Global Director of Young Leadership. “Professors are entitled to their personal political viewpoints, even radical viewpoints. But when those opinions get in the way of their job performance—and writing letters of recommendation for qualified students is a part of a professor’s job—then their employers are entitled, indeed obligated, to take action to protect students from the kind of capriciousness that Professor Cheney-Lippold displayed.”

“The University of Michigan is undoubtedly one of the best schools for Jewish students,” Kogen added. “I applaud the Jewish student leaders and their allies and supporters who helped navigate this situation to a positive conclusion.”

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