A second Michigan instructor withheld a recommendation letter from student headed to Israel
Ann Arbor, Mich – An instructor at the University of Michigan went back on her commitment last week to provide a letter of recommendation for a student after learning that the undergraduate’s destination for a study-abroad program was Israel, in a previously unreported incident that is the second such case on the Ann Arbor, Mich., campus in the past month.
The incidents expose vexed questions about free speech and the role of academics as colleges and universities become battlegrounds in the movement known as BDS, for boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Jake Secker is a 20-year-old junior from Great Neck, N.Y., majoring in economics and minoring in entrepreneurship. His father is Israeli, and Secker has made five trips to the nation he considers his “home away from home.” But since he was a young boy, he has longed for something more, actually living in Israel for a stretch of time. This winter, a semester abroad at Tel Aviv University could fulfill that aspiration, he hopes.
“Hi Lucy!” he wrote Monday, Oct. 1, to his GSI from an introduction to political theory course from last year. “Hope you had a great summer!”
“I am in need of an academic letter of recommendation to study abroad next semester and if you can do that for me that would be greatly appreciated,” he explained.
She replied the same day. “Totally! I’d be delighted,” wrote a teaching assistant he identified as Lucy Peterson who, according to her Facebook profile, is a political theory student at the university.
According to an email provided by Secker, Peterson inquired: “What program are you applying to? Send along whatever information I need, and I’ll let you know when I submit it.”
Secker thanked her and told her he was applying to study at Tel Aviv University. She then replied to say that she couldn’t provide the reference, Secker said.
“I’m so sorry that I didn’t ask before agreeing to write your recommendation letter, but I regrettably will not be able to write on your behalf,” she explained. “Along with numerous other academics in the US and elsewhere, I have pledged myself to a boycott of Israeli institutions as a way of showing solidarity with Palestine.”
She added, “Please know that this decision is not about you as a student or a person, and I would be happy to write a recommendation for you if you end up applying to other programs.”
Peterson didn’t return messages early Tuesday inviting her to elaborate on her reasoning.