Letter to Dean Cole at the University of Michigan Regarding Professor John Cheney-Lippold

Elizabeth R. Cole, Interim Dean
College of Literature, Science and the Arts
University of Michigan
[email protected]

Dear Dean Cole:
We write the Executive Board of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) to express our grave concern
about your decision to impose disciplinary sanctions against Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the Department of
American Culture.

The ostensible reason for your action stem from his decision to not to write a letter of recommendation for a student
that would be used to support her application for a study-abroad program in Israel. As a result of your action,
Professor Cheney-Lippold will be ineligible for a salary increase for the current academic year and his sabbatical
eligibility and credits will be frozen for two years. Your decision to punish Professor Cheney-Lippold for acting on
the basis of his convictions and exercising his discretion as a faculty member is a distressing and dangerous
violation of his academic freedom.

We understand that Professor Cheney-Lippold had written this student a letter in which he explained that his
decision was informed by the “academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine.” As a
supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, Dr. Cheney-Lippold viewed this action as one
that adhered to BDS guidelines which includes a stipulation that “international faculty should not accept to write
recommendations for students hoping to pursue studies in Israel….” The University of Michigan’s Standard Practice
Guide says the following on the question of freedom of speech and artistic expression:

“Expression of diverse points of view is of the highest importance, not only for those who espouse a cause
or position and then defend it, but also for those who hear and pass judgment on that defense. The belief
that an opinion is pernicious, false, or in any other way detestable cannot be grounds for its
suppression” (Article 601.01).

Your institution’s very guidelines proscribe anyone—including deans, university administrators, or members of
boards of trustees or boards of regents—the authority to police the boundaries of academic freedom, especially in
the arbitrary way that has taken place.

Professor Cheney-Lippold came to this decision not lightly, but rather on the basis of sincerely held convictions
about an issue of public concern. Your decision to sanction him is a clear violation of the letter and spirit of the
university to which you are both employed. We therefore call on you to rescind your decision to impose disciplinary
penalties on Professor Cheney-Lippold and to publicly reaffirm the University of Michigan’s commitment to respect,
and vigorously protect, the academic freedom and free speech rights of its faculty.

Theodore S. Gonzalves, Ph.D.
President (on behalf of the Executive Board) Association for Asian American Studies