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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Federal investigations reveal shocking discrimination at major U.S. Universities

CUNY has committed to resolving all nine complaints and ensuring consistent protection against discrimination across its 25 campuses.

The U.S. Department of Education has identified significant shortcomings in how the University of Michigan and the City University of New York (CUNY) handled reports of antisemitic and anti-Arab discrimination on their campuses following the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. These findings, resulting in resolution agreements, emphasize the necessity for universities to improve their responses to discrimination complaints to comply with federal laws.

Inadequate Response to Discrimination

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) conducted thorough investigations into both institutions, revealing systemic failures in addressing discrimination. At the University of Michigan, OCR reviewed 75 reports of harassment and discrimination from the 2022-23 school year through February 2024. The findings indicated that the university did not comply with Title VI requirements, failing to assess whether incidents created a hostile environment or taking steps to address and prevent such situations.

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One notable incident occurred in October 2023, when protesters on campus chanted “Nazi liberation.” The university’s response was limited to forwarding the report to the public affairs office, with no further action taken. Additionally, a Jewish student reported being targeted on social media by a graduate student instructor. The university dismissed the complaint, citing free speech protections. This response was deemed insufficient by OCR, highlighting the university’s lack of effective measures to protect students from harassment.

City University of New York’s Shortcomings

The investigation into CUNY included nine complaints against five of its campuses and its central office, covering issues from the 2019-2020 academic year onward. OCR found that the university system, particularly Hunter College, failed to respond effectively to incidents of discrimination and harassment. In one case, Jewish students at Hunter College were told not to speak during a class session that was disrupted by calls for the decolonization of Palestine. The college’s inadequate response, which included not interviewing the affected students, did not address the discriminatory environment created by the disruption.

CUNY has committed to resolving all nine complaints and ensuring consistent protection against discrimination across its 25 campuses. The university system will reopen or initiate investigations of Title VI complaints, provide OCR with the results, and train employees and campus peace officers on handling discrimination incidents. Additionally, CUNY will administer a climate survey by September 30 to assess the prevalence of discrimination on its campuses.

Federal Oversight and Future Commitments

The resolutions issued by the Education Department are part of broader efforts to ensure compliance with Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry. These agreements require the universities to review and revise their policies and procedures for handling discrimination complaints, report future incidents to OCR, and implement training programs for staff and law enforcement on campus.

University of Michigan President Santa J. Ono and CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez both issued statements reaffirming their commitment to creating safe and inclusive environments on their campuses. They acknowledged the need for improvements and expressed gratitude for OCR’s collaboration in developing comprehensive plans to address discrimination.

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The Education Department’s actions come amid a tumultuous period for higher education, marked by increased activism and reports of harassment following the Hamas attacks on Israel. Both Jewish and Muslim students have reported feeling unsafe on campuses, with incidents of physical violence and hostile rhetoric becoming more common. The federal oversight aims to ensure that universities uphold their responsibilities under civil rights laws, providing all students with an environment free from discrimination and harassment.