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U.S. criticizes Michigan and CUNY for inadequate responses to antisemitic and anti-Palestinian incidents

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  • The U.S. Education Department criticized the University of Michigan and CUNY for inadequate responses to antisemitic and anti-Palestinian incidents.
  • Both universities have agreed to implement measures such as climate assessments, additional training, and policy revisions.
  • The investigations are part of a broader effort to address complaints of antisemitism and Islamophobia at over 100 educational institutions across the U.S.

The U.S. Education Department has criticized the University of Michigan and the City University of New York (CUNY) for their inadequate responses to antisemitic and anti-Palestinian incidents on their campuses. This criticism comes after a series of investigations revealed that both institutions failed to address a hostile environment for students, staff, and faculty during protests and other incidents related to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The investigations, conducted by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) within the Education Department, examined 75 reported instances of discrimination and harassment based on shared Jewish ancestry and shared Palestinian or Muslim ancestry. The findings indicated that the universities' responses did not meet the requirements mandated by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.

One notable incident involved a Jewish student at the University of Michigan who reported being disparaged for viewing a graduate student instructor's social media post about pro-Palestinian topics. The university declined to pursue formal conflict resolution, citing the incident's occurrence on social media as a reason. In another case, a student participating in a pro-Palestinian protest was labeled a 'terrorist,' and the university's response was limited to holding 'restorative circles' without taking further action.

In response to the OCR's findings, both the University of Michigan and CUNY have agreed to implement several measures to improve their handling of discrimination complaints. These measures include conducting climate assessments, providing additional training for staff, revising policies as needed, and ongoing monitoring by the OCR through the end of the 2026 academic year. The universities will also report their responses to future incidents of discrimination to the Education Department.

The Education Department's investigations are part of a broader effort to address complaints of antisemitism and Islamophobia at over 100 universities and school districts across the United States. These complaints have triggered inquiries at prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Yale, as well as community colleges and public schools in Los Angeles and suburban Minneapolis.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has expressed concern about the department's ability to keep up with the influx of cases, noting that the average case load per investigator increased to 42 cases in 2023. Without additional resources, this figure could rise to over 70 cases per investigator. Cardona emphasized the need for additional support to ensure timely investigations and resolutions.

The investigations have also highlighted the challenges educational institutions face in balancing free speech rights and student safety. Protests over the Israel-Hamas war disrupted the final weeks of the school year at numerous campuses, with some institutions canceling graduation ceremonies or moving classes online due to pro-Palestinian protesters establishing encampments on campus. The rhetoric used in these protests, including chants like 'from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' and 'intifada revolution,' has been perceived as antisemitic by some, further complicating the universities' responses.

Several federal complaints under investigation argue that such phrases should be prohibited, while others allege that Arab and Muslim students have faced abuses that were disregarded by campus officials. At Harvard, the Education Department is investigating separate complaints of alleged antisemitism and Islamophobia.

As the Education Department continues its investigations, several colleges and school districts have been summoned before Congress to address allegations of antisemitism. These hearings have resulted in the resignations of some college leaders, including Liz Magill at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard's Claudine Gay, who was also implicated in plagiarism allegations.

The U.S. Education Department's criticism of the University of Michigan and CUNY underscores the need for educational institutions to take more robust actions in addressing discrimination and creating a safe environment for all students. The agreed-upon measures aim to ensure that future incidents are handled more effectively, promoting a campus culture that opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment.

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