Professor John Cheney-Lippold will give a rescheduled lecture about identity in the age of algorithms and big data on Wednesday, March 20 at 5 p.m. in Golden Auditorium. The lecture was indefinitely postponed by both the Film and Media Studies (FMST) department and Cheney-Lippold back in October 2018 after they were made aware of concerns expressed by the Colgate community regarding Cheney-Lippold’s personal beliefs. According to the FMST department, the rescheduled date was set in early November 2018.
Professor Cheney-Lippold is an Associate Professor in the American Culture department at the University of Michigan who researches data and privacy. He was sanctioned by the University on October 3, 2018, after denying a student a letter of recommendation to study abroad in Tel Aviv. While he originally said he withheld his letter of recommendation on account of a university boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians, Cheney-Lippold later corrected himself, stating that his refusal was based on his personal, rather than his department’s, beliefs.
“I should have let you know earlier, and for that I apologize. But for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter,” Cheney-Lippold wrote to the student in an email at the time.
Amidst his actions sparking national controversy in late September 2018, Cheney-Lippold was originally scheduled to speak on Colgate’s campus on November 5.
His invitation to speak at Colgate was extended by the FMST Department on February 17, 2018 and accepted on February 24, 2018, following the release of his 2017 book, “We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of our Digital Selves”.
The FMST department selects speakers based on their recent scholarship and the current course material being taught.
“Professor Cheney-Lippold is a renowned scholar of technological and cultural shifts in the digital age,” the FMST department said. “We invited [him] in order to have a generative discussion about his groundbreaking scholarship on digital media. His scholarship constitutes an important contribution to the constantly evolving field of film and media studies.”
This semester, Professor Eli Horwatt is incorporating algorithms and data into his Introduction to Film and Media Studies course curriculum.
“[Professor Cheney-Lippold’s work is] particularly pertinent to our class in general in its discussion of self-identification,” first-year and Introduction to Film and Media Studies student Phoebe Sklansky said.
Though Colgate responded to initial concerns from parents and Jewish students by indefinitely postponing the lecture in the fall, with the event now rescheduled, students said they are still troubled by Cheney-Lippold’s now upcoming visit to campus.
“Cheney-Lippold’s presence at Colgate is very upsetting to many Jewish and/or Zionist students, as well as anyone who believes in academic or professional integrity,” senior and former President of the Colgate Jewish Union/Hillel Emily Kahn said. “I am very disappointed that the lecture was rescheduled to the afternoon before Purim. It puts a damper on what is supposed to be one of the most celebratory days of the year. In the future, [I] advise members of the Colgate community to be more considerate of the Jewish calendar when scheduling events.”
In anticipation of Cheney-Lippold’s visit, the FMST and Jewish Studies (JWST) faculty, in collaboration with the Office of the Chaplains, have organized an open forum to discuss Professor Cheney-Lippold’s invitation to speak on campus on Wednesday, March 6 at 4:15 p.m. in the Saperstein Jewish Center.
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