Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Professors who refuse to write recommendations for students to study in Israel

A new article on John Cheney-Lippold's refusal to write a letter of recommendation for a student to study in Israel, from Steven Lubet, who is the Edna B. and Ednyfed H. Williams Memorial Professor of Law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law: What to Do About Professors Who Refuse to Offer Recommendations to Students Who Want to Study in Israel.
Cheney-Lippold is well within his own rights to boycott Israel, but he is quite wrong to insist that solidarity with the BDS movement privileges him to withhold a reference from a qualified student. The Tel Aviv program is officially approved by the University of Michigan, and Cheney-Lippold is not entitled to impede a student’s access to it, just as he could not bar nonboycotting students from his courses, decline to grade their papers, or refuse to call on them in class. Every instructor has a professional responsibility to treat their students impartially, without regard to personal politics. In a letter to the campus community, President Mark Schlissel and provost Martin Filbert stated unambiguously that “faculty members’ personal political beliefs cannot interfere with their obligations to our students with regard to letter-writing and all other modes of academic support.” Withholding students’ recommendations would “violate their academic freedom and betray our university’s educational mission.”....
Even so, Cheney-Lippold’s discipline went too far for a first offense. A reprimand and warning would have been sufficient, and would have avoided raising difficult issues of academic freedom, First Amendment rights, and faculty governance. There is certain to be litigation, in which Cheney-Lippold will argue—as explained by one BDS advocate—that “participating in boycotts to advance progressive causes has a long and time-honored history in the United States.”

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