Investigation finds Michigan, CUNY failed to protect Jewish, Muslim students

The Federal Department of Education said on Monday that two universities failed to adequately protect Jewish and Muslim students in the hot days following the October 2011 attacks. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent Gaza war.

The University of Michigan and the City University of New York (CUNY) and several of their affiliated colleges have agreed to review certain prior cases and conduct training, among other actions, to resolve federal investigations into student complaints in the context of the Middle East conflict. Jewish and Palestinian students have described harassment and other incidents of discrimination, reporting hostile remarks, disrupted classes, vandalism and more.

“Hate has no place on our college campuses,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. He called the resolutions a positive step forward, but said: “Unfortunately, we have witnessed a series of deeply concerning incidents in recent months. »

These are the first cases since October. 7 to be resolved by the Ministry of Education. Some departmental investigations related to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were underway before the war, but their numbers increased as campuses across the country were engulfed by pro-Palestinian protests. Another 106 cases are pending at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, involving both universities and K-12 school districts, one commenter said.

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said

The university thanks the Office for Civil Rights for collaborating on a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety of all students on its campuses. “CUNY is committed to providing an environment free of discrimination and hatred, and these new measures will ensure consistency and transparency in how complaints are investigated and resolved,” he said.

University of Michigan President Santa J. Ono said in a statement that the university condemns “all forms of discrimination, racism and prejudice.” He added: “Since October 7, we have been deeply troubled by the statements and actions of some members of our community. The university is required to respect the principles of free speech, including objectionable speech, but it works to ensure that “the debate does not tip into targeted harassment or intimidation,” Ono said .

In its investigation into the University of Michigan, the Office for Civil Rights reviewed 75 reports of harassment and discrimination since the 2022-2023 school year and found that the university conducted virtually no investigation. There was also “no evidence” that the university was complying with its legal requirements under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, according to the report. The provision prohibits discrimination based on common ancestry, including against Jews or Muslims.

Details of the investigation highlight the struggle universities have faced balancing free speech rights and harassment. Incidents cited in the Michigan report included anti-Semitic comments in classrooms, at protests and online.

One incident involved an October 2023 event on Ann Arbor’s central campus, where protesters shouted “Nazi liberation,” the investigation concluded. The Office for Civil Rights said it found no evidence that the university responded to the event, beyond forwarding the report to its public affairs office for a response.

That same month, the office said, a Jewish student reported being targeted and harassed on social media. The student reported that he viewed a graduate student instructor’s Instagram story that included discussions of pro-Palestinian topics. After that, the instructor took a screenshot showing that the student had seen the story, then posted his own story, tagging the student and showing that he had an Israeli flag in his bio. The instructor wrote: “Did you like my educational speech? »

The university refused to comment formally on the situation, saying that social media “will be largely protected under freedom of expression”, the investigation concluded. It turned out that this response was insufficient.

In another widely reported incident in November 2023, a student reported that someone shouted that she had “terrorist” friends because she was participating in a pro-Palestinian protest. The university responded by instituting a restorative circle, an alternative to commonly used discipline in which those involved are encouraged to apologize, but it took no further action. This was also among the cases in which responses were insufficient.

“Everyone has the right to learn in an environment free from discriminatory harassment based on who they are,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, said in a statement.

At the City University of New York and its affiliated colleges, nine complaints were pending, from Jewish and Muslim students, and the resolution agreement announced Monday covers them all.

In the first case, the investigation found that in 2021, Hunter College students and faculty ordered a mandatory college course as part of a call for what they described as the decolonization of Palestine. When Jewish students tried to speak, they were told to listen and not speak, investigators found. The federal investigation concluded that Hunter’s response to the incident was inadequate.

To resolve these complaints, the two universities have agreed, among other things, to review or reopen previously filed complaints; communicate results to the federal government; train employees on the university’s legal obligations to respond to allegations of discrimination; and administer climate surveys to assess the extent to which students and employees experience or witness discrimination and harassment based on race, color, or national origin, including common ancestry.

Leave a Comment