Ed Dept: CUNY & Michigan Failed to Address Campus Discrimination

By  - 
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona speaks at the 2024 Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities on Feb. 5, 2024. (Credit: U.S. Department of Education.)

The  U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced Monday that the University of Michigan (UM) and the City University of New York (CUNY) failed to adequately protect Jewish and Muslim students during the tense period following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which triggered the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

An agreement between the department and both institutions resolves two complaints that found UM and CUNY to have insufficiently responded to potentially discriminatory environments affecting students on their campuses. ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigated student reports of hostile language, class disruptions, vandalism, and other incidents of harassment and discrimination. Their findings revealed mishandling of reports and a lack of evidence showing full compliance with Title IX legal obligations by the universities.

“Hate has no place on our college campuses—ever. Sadly, we have witnessed a series of deeply concerning incidents in recent months,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release. “There’s no question that this is a challenging moment for school communities across the country. The recent commitments made by [UM] and CUNY mark a positive step forward. [OCR] continues to hold schools accountable for compliance with civil rights standards, including by investigating allegations of discrimination or harassment based on shared Jewish ancestry and shared Palestinian or Muslim ancestry. We will continue to work with school leaders, educators, and students across the country to ensure that everyone has a safe learning environment.”

Previously, discrimination and harassment reports were handled separately by several offices at UM. Under the new agreement, all complaints related to discrimination and harassment will be centralized and directed to the Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office, while safety concerns will continue to be handled by the Division of Public Safety and Security.

As part of the resolution, both universities committed to reviewing past complaints, reporting outcomes to the federal government, training employees on discrimination response obligations, and conducting climate surveys to assess discrimination and harassment experiences based on race, color, national origin, and shared ancestry among students and staff.

The investigation highlights the challenge that universities face in balancing the protection of free speech, including offensive or harmful speech, while preventing a hostile environment based on race, color, and national origin as required by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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

These cases mark the first resolutions by ED coinciding with increased investigations into antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents amid widespread campus protests. Currently, the OCR is handling 106 additional cases awaiting resolution, involving both K-12 school districts and higher education institutions.