University of Michigan didn’t assess if Israel-Hamas war protests made environment hostile, feds say

WASHINGTON — The University of Michigan has not been able to assess whether this is the case protests and other incidents on campus in response to the war between Israel and Hamas created a hostile environment for students, staff and faculty, according to the results of a U.S. Department of Education investigation announced Monday.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights investigated 75 cases of alleged discrimination and harassment based on shared Jewish ancestry and shared Palestinian or Muslim ancestry. The investigation showed that the university’s answers did not meet the requirements Title VI requirements to remedy the hostile environment.

In one case, when a Jewish student reported being called out for viewing a graduate lecturer’s social media post on pro-Palestinian topics, the university told the student that “formal conflict resolution is not a path forward at this time,” because the incident happened on social media.

In another case, when a student participated in a pro-Palestinian protest was called a “terrorist”, the university said there were “recovery circles” to address the incident, but took no further action.

In its resolution agreement, the University of Michigan agreed to conduct a climate assessment, provide additional training and revise its policies as necessary. It also agreed to oversight by the Office for Civil Rights through the end of the 2026 school year, and reported its responses to future discrimination cases to the department.

It is the first investigation to reach a conclusion among dozens of investigations launched by the Ministry of Education since October 7, the day Hamas launched the investigation. a surprise attack on Israel.

Complaints of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have led to investigations at more than a hundred universities and school districts, ranging from Harvard and Yale to community colleges and public schools from Los Angeles to the suburbs of Minneapolis.

The complaints vary widely, but they all accuse schools of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. Colleges and schools are required to protect students from discrimination, and if they fail to do so, the Department of Education can impose sanctions, up to and including termination of federal funds.

Protests over the war between Israel and Hamas have disrupted the final weeks of the school year on many campuses across the country, with some canceling graduation ceremonies or moving classes online after pro-Palestinian protesters set up encampments in campus spaces.

The protests have tested schools as they strive to balance freedom of expression with student safety. The Department of Education has issued guidance outlining schools’ responsibilities around Title VI, but the results of the agency’s research could provide a clearer line showing where political speech crosses over into harassment.

Finding that line has been a struggle for colleges, as they grapple with rhetoric that means different things to different people. Some chants commonly used by pro-Palestinian activists are seen by some as anti-Semitic.

Some of the federal complaints under investigation argue that these phrases should be excluded, including “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” and “intifada revolution.”

Meanwhile, some complaints say Arab and Muslim students have faced abuses but were ignored by campus officials. At Harvard, the Department of Education is investigating separate complaints, one alleging anti-Semitism and the other alleging Islamophobia.

More investigations are expected to be completed in the coming weeks, but Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said his agency is struggling to keep up with the influx of cases.

Republicans have rejected requests for more money for the department’s Office of Civil Rights in recent years, while the average caseload has risen to 42 per investigator by 2023. Without more money, that number could rise to more than 70 cases per investigator, Cardona said . .

“We urgently need additional support to ensure we can investigate the matters before us,” Cardona told House members in May.

On average, it takes about six to eight months for cases to be resolved. The vast majority of the agency’s civil rights investigations end with voluntary resolutions. Schools typically promise to resolve any lingering issues and take steps to protect students in the future.

As the Department of Education investigates, several colleges and school districts have been called separately before Congress to respond to allegations of anti-Semitism. Republicans have held a series of hearings on the issue, grilling leaders accused of tolerating anti-Semitism.

The hearings contributed to the resignations of several university leaders, including Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania and Claudine Gay of Harvard, who was also embroiled in plagiarism allegations.


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