October 8, 2018
President Mark S. Schlissel
University of Michigan
2074 Fleming Administration Building
503 Thompson Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1340
University of Michigan Board of Regents
500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Dear President Schlissel and Honorable Members of the Board of Regents:
On September 21, we submitted a complaint letter to you in accordance with Section 201.89 of the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guide Policies, urging you to address the discriminatory and unprofessional conduct of Professor John Cheney-Lippold. This professor rescinded an offer to write a recommendation letter for a deserving student simply because she was seeking to study at a university in Israel. Despite the professor’s numerous policy violations – including the university’s policy against boycott, divestment and sanctions activities against Israel – there is no indication that the university took any disciplinary action in response to Cheney-Lippold’s wrongdoing. The university’s inaction has unfortunately sent a dangerous signal to the faculty that they are free to disregard policies and use their power to impose their anti-Israel views on students and stand in the way of students pursuing the educational opportunities of their choosing.
We write now to complain about the university’s failure to respond to what occurred last Thursday, when a Jewish student reported that she was “forced to sit through an overtly anti-Semitic lecture” comparing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler. Emory Douglas, a graphic designer who once served as minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, spoke as part of the Penny Stamps Lecture Series through the University’s Stamps School of Art & Design. Douglas displayed a slide in his lecture showing a picture of Netanyahu and Hitler with the words “Guilty Of Genocide” written over their faces.
A Jewish student – who was required to attend this lecture – was understandably outraged by this expression of anti-Semitism. (We refer you to the U.S. government’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which includes “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”). In a Facebook post, the student described the hurt and harm she endured:
Yesterday I was forced to sit through an overtly anti-Semitic lecture . . . In what world is it ok for a mandatory course to host a speaker who compares Adolf Hitler to the Prime Minister of Israel?
. . . I sat through this lecture horrified at the hatred and intolerance being spewed on our campus. As a Jew who is proud of my people and my homeland, I sat through this lecture feeling targeted and smeared to be as evil as the man who perpetrated the Holocaust and systematically murdered six million Jews.
This student described a similar experience two years ago, when she was “forced to sit through another mandatory Stamps lecture in which the speaker, Joe Sacco, made references to Israel being a terrorist state and explicitly claimed that Israeli soldiers were unworthy of being represented as actual human beings in his artwork”:
This time I will no long sit quietly and allow others to dehumanize my people and my community. The administration is repeatedly failing to forcefully respond to antisemitism, and so it comes back worse and worse way time. A line needs to be drawn and it needs to be drawn now.
Your policies could not be clearer that discrimination and harassment are intolerable to the university – that they “diminish individual dignity and impede educational opportunities.” It is thus unfathomable that the university’s response to the anti-Semitism expressed in Douglas’ lecture was this single phrase in a full-page statement: “The Stamps program is intentionally provocative.”
The statement made no reference to the offensive slide Douglas showed. Moreover, not a single university leader has spoken up to condemn Douglas and his outrageous, false and anti-Semitic comparison of the Prime Minister of the Jewish State of Israel to Hitler, the mastermind of the attempted genocide of the Jewish people.
Your obligation to speak out is not a partisan matter. The American Civil Liberties Union has made it crystal clear that in response to offensive speech, “campus administrators should “speak out loudly and clearly.”
Likewise, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has called on colleges and universities to “condemn manifestations of intolerance and discrimination, whether physical or verbal.”
Indeed the AAUP states: “The governing board and the administration have a special duty not only to set an outstanding example of tolerance, but also to challenge boldly and condemn immediately serious breaches of civility” [emphasis added].
What example are you setting? Jewish students at the University of Michigan have repeatedly been targeted with anti-Semitism masquerading as criticism of Israel. But it is anti-Semitism nonetheless – and yet the official response has been weak and inadequate.
We urge you to finally take action and do it now. Violators of university policies like Cheney-Lippold should be held accountable for their wrongdoing. Anti-Semitic speech should be loudly and clearly condemned.
We call on all current and prospective students, their families, alumni, and your supporters in the community to pay close attention to how you respond to the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students. All of them should make it clear to the university that it can and must do better. All of them should seriously consider whether the evidence reflects that the university is truly living up to its commitment to maintain an academic environment free of discrimination and harassment for all students – and whether the university is still deserving of support.
Very truly yours,
Morton A. Klein, National President
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director, Center for Law and Justice
Leore Ben-David, Managing Director, ZOA Campus