CUNY failed to properly investigate incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia, feds say

several people at a table, including Miguel Cardona, discussing student loan forgiveness
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona hosted a discussion on student loan forgiveness with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) at their Downtown Manhattan headquarters on April 8, 2024.
Photo by Barbara Russo

Several City University of New York (CUNY) colleges improperly investigated antisemitism and Islamophobia on their campuses, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday.

The federal education department said it reached an agreement with CUNY mandating that the city’s public college system take several corrective actions — including reopening or initiating investigations of complaints and reports of alleged discrimination.

The CUNY colleges at the center of the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) probe include Hunter, Brooklyn, Queens, Baruch and the School of Law. Of the nine complaints that were investigated, some go as far back as 2019, but most were filed after the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza following the Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks. 

“Hate has no place on our college campuses—ever,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “Sadly, we have witnessed a series of deeply concerning incidents in recent months. There’s no question that this is a challenging moment for school communities across the country.”

Under the voluntary agreement reached with the U.S. Education Department, CUNY committed to taking action that includes additional training, increased reporting and monitoring, some of which the impacted schools and other CUNY colleges have already undertaken, CUNY officials said. The university system will also revisit some individual complaints for further investigation. 

“Colleges serve as beacons of free speech and expression, but the safety of our students, staff and faculty is paramount,” CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said. “CUNY is committed to providing an environment that is free from discrimination and hate and these new steps will ensure that there is consistency and transparency in how complaints are investigated and resolved.”

Matos Rodriguez said the CUNY schools are grateful to the OCR for working with CUNY to help combat on-campus hate. 

“We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for working with CUNY to create a holistic plan that builds on our ongoing efforts to combat hate and ensure that every member of our community is safe on our campuses,” he said.

In one incident at Hunter College in 2021, the OCR investigation confirmed that students and faculty disrupted two different sessions of a required college course by commandeering the scheduled course discussion to use the class time to call for the decolonization of Palestine. It is alleged that the disruption made several students fearful, and a student left class early. 

Additionally, when Jewish students spoke or tried to speak, others told them they should be listening, not speaking, the investigation reported. OCR’s investigation determined that the school “could not have adequately evaluated what occurred in the sessions and whether it created a hostile environment for Jewish students without interviewing affected students.”

The investigation also “yielded no evidence that Hunter took any action to communicate to affected students the results of its investigation or that it took actions to redress any hostile environment students may have experienced.”

In similar news, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) released a report this month showing a rise of antisemitism at Columbia University, a private school that was rocked by many on-campus pro-Palestinian protests leading up to the end of the school year. 

According to the report, more than 100 Columbia faculty members endorsed the student group Students for Justice in Palestine, which ISGAP and other organizations have said aligns itself with the terror group, Hamas.

“The revelations in the ISGAP report highlight a troubling trend of growing antisemitism and extremism at one of the elite American universities,” said Charles Small, executive director of ISGAP. “The normalization of hate and support for terrorism within Columbia University’s academic and social environment is not only an affront to American democratic values, but poses a direct threat to the principles of academic freedom, safety, and diversity that should define our higher education institutions.”  

The OCR also entered into a resolution agreement with the University of Michigan. Cardona went on to say the recent commitments made by the schools marks a “positive step forward.”