After two students were denied letters of recommendation for study abroad programs by University of Michigan faculty members attempting to make a political statement against Israel, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) developed a model policy to ensure that universities promote clear standards guiding such faculty conduct in the future.
The new model policy offers suggested guidance to faculty with clear expectations for appropriate standards that should influence decision making about writing letters on behalf of students for study abroad.
“When faculty are asked to write letters of recommendation, their primary considerations ought to be academic merit and the student’s qualifications,” the model policy states. “The decision to express or withhold support for students in the form of recommendation letters should not be influenced by political considerations.”
In Fall 2018, a University of Michigan faculty member refused to write a letter of recommendation to a qualified student for study abroad after learning the program was in Israel; shortly thereafter, a graduate student instructor employed a similar tactic against a different student applying to study abroad. Both instructors indicated they had pledged to boycott study abroad programs in Israel as a tactic of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the Jewish state.
“Political partisanship should play no role in a faculty member’s decision to write or decline to write letters of recommendation for students,” said Mark G. Yudof, Chair of the AEN advisory board and former president of the University of California. “We believe that most faculty members, administrators, and governing boards understand the need to treat all students with fairness when they wish to study elsewhere. But many universities appear to have no explicit policies on this subject. The model policy is designed to facilitate the adoption of such policies.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, said the new policy would be shared with university administrations across the country in an effort to ensure uniformity at institutions of higher learning across the country.
“After the University of Michigan incidents, it became obvious that there were gaps in university faculty handbooks regarding writing or refusing requests for letters of recommendation,” Greenblatt said. “This policy makes clear that a professor’s personal politics should never interfere with the academic freedom of their students. We hope that every university can establish a clear policy to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future.”
The model policy was distributed to college and university administrators nationwide through ADL’s network of 25 regional offices and AEN’s faculty network.