Schlissel speaks out on professor’s refusal to support student effort to study in Israel


President Mark Schlissel said Thursday that a faculty member’s refusal to provide a previously promised letter of recommendation for a student because she was seeking to study abroad in Israel is not the position of the university.

Speaking at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, Schlissel reiterated the university strongly opposes a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

“The academic aspirations of our students — and their academic freedom — are fundamental to the University of Michigan, and our teaching and research missions,” Schlissel said. “We are committed as an institution to support our students’ academic growth.”

Schlissel said the faculty member’s view does not reflect the position of the university nor any department or unit on campus.

“We are a large and diverse public university, and the individual opinions of our community range widely on many issues,” Schlissel said. “But personal views and politics should never interfere with our support of students. It is counter to our values and expectations as an institution.”

Schlissel said he, along with the Board of Regents and the university’s executive officers have been deeply engaged in the matter, and will take appropriate steps to address the issue and the broader questions it has raised.

Regent Denise Ilitch said focusing on the best interests of students is paramount.

“This type of profoundly exclusionary conduct by a University of Michigan professor flies completely against our mission,” Ilitch said. “Let’s call this what it really is: anti-Semitic.

“It impairs and interferes with our student’s ability to reach her educational aspirations and further, this professor was the beneficiary of recommendations during his ascent to a tenured position at our university.

“Imagine replacing the phrase that was used in this letter — academic boycott against Israel and students planning to study there — with your ethnicity, your race or your gender, just to name a few.

“This is not who the University of Michigan is.”



  1. Steven Hewlett
    on September 21, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Boycotting Israel is not antisemitism. It is a protest against the policies of the State of Israel that disenfranchise Palestinians and perpetuates the state of conflict in the Middle East. It is a protest against a state and not a people.

    • Hanan Flood
      on September 21, 2018 at 6:56 pm

      Agreed Steven.

      • George Rosenwald
        on September 21, 2018 at 8:44 pm

        Unless this faculty member also seeks to boycott China, Russia, and several other countries that have annexed or occupied foreign lands and populations and especially if the only support he gives to the Palestinian people is to boycott Israel, then, yes, his act is anti-Semitic.

        • George Garcia
          on October 12, 2018 at 11:18 am

          I respectfully disagree with Mr. Rosenwald for two reasons. The first is that everyone has (should have) the right to choose which social issues they want to support. For my part, I would say that I only have a certain amount of time that I can spend on social issues and while i might agree with you about China, Russia etc. I have to be selective about what I choose to support. I suspect the same may be true for this faculty member.
          My second point echos some other comments posted here. Israel is a nation not a religion. In a democracy we have the right (if not duty) to be constructively critical of our government and its policies. We also have the right to be critical of other nation’s governments and policies (e.g., China trade policies, Russia’s likely interference in our elections, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions). Criticisms of those countries and their polices abound everywhere you look including Presidential Tweets. Those who publicize those criticisms are not labeled as anti-Asian or anti-Slalvic or anti-Korean. Neither should those who elect to criticize the polices of a Middle East nation called Israel be labelled as anti-Semitic. Anti-semitism does exist and should be condemned as should Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, sexual harassment etc.

          I have heard rumors that the professor in question has seen unofficially sanctioned by the University without due process. If this is true (and I hope it is not), then that would be a violation of the professor’s academic freedom and should be rectified.

          I should also add that I disagree with the professor’s decision and would have written the letter of recommendation myself. My understanding of the academic boycott movement is that they explicitly do not boycott individuals but rather focus on institutions that are associated with the nation of Israel and its policies via-a-vis Palestine.

    • Eleni Gourgou
      on September 21, 2018 at 11:35 pm

      Agreed, too.

    • Rebecca Tagett
      on October 2, 2018 at 2:29 pm

      Agreed Steven

    • Nathan Carrillo
      on October 11, 2018 at 11:33 am


  2. Bilal Assi
    on September 24, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Imagine a student wanted a letter of recommendation to study at a government-funded university in apartheid South Africa; I don’t think a professor’s decision to decline writing a LOR would create such an uproar. Nor would it be misinterpreted as a hatred of any particular group of people in that region, but rather, a firm opposition to the policies of that government.

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