The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is investigating Rutgers University for its response to alleged anti-Semitic harassment, according to documents obtained by The Huffington Post.
The Zionist Organization of America, a right-leaning Jewish advocacy group, presented the government with claims that Jewish students at Rutgers have been the object of anti-Semitic intimidation on Facebook by an employee of the university -- and that the university did not respond properly.
"OCR has one open complaint involving Rutgers University," Daren Briscoe, a U.S. Education Department spokesperson, confirmed in an email. "The complaint alleges that the University failed to respond appropriately to a complaint alleging that students were subjected to harassment and different treatment because of their national origin (Jewish ancestry/ethnicity). The OCR complaint is currently under investigation."
OCR opened the investigation on Oct. 26. The office is not investigating all of the ZOA's claims -- such as a student group, Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action's, creation of a "hostile environment for Jewish students by holding anti-Israel events and forums" -- on the grounds that the complaints addressed materials shown at these events, and not specific students. The ZOA plans to repeal that decision.
The ZOA's Susan Tuchman said she waited to release the OCR's letter confirming the investigation until Friday because she had originally wanted to wait until the appeal was resolved. "There was no motive," she said. "It should have gone out sooner."
According to the ZOA's July complaint, Jewish students approached the organization to complain about an "increasingly hostile and anti-Semitic" environment with "serious and intolerable results."
The complaint quotes alleged comments that the ZOA says the Outreach Coordinator for Rutgers' Center for Middle Eastern Studies made on Facebook about a Jewish student. The comments quoted by the ZOA complaint refer to the student as a "racist Zionist pig!!!!!!!!" and exhort others to look for the Jewish student's Facebook "hate page."
The same student was also allegedly the subject of other threats on Facebook, according to the ZOA. The complaint continues:
"As I was reading the . . . [Jewish student's] column [in the Rutgers student paper] this morning, I realized how Im [sic] a pretty angry person. Id [sic] be happy to see him beat [sic] with a crow bar. Violence doesnt [sic] solve problems but it shuts up people who shoudnt [sic] speak."
After the Jewish student received the threats he allegedly took his name out of the university's directory, retained police protection and filed a bias incident report with the school, the ZOA said. According to the ZOA's compliant, despite the school's responsibility to address the report the next day, the administration allegedly waited a month to respond to it and gave the offender "a warning."
The ZOA found the university's response inadequate and decided to pursue the matter further. The ZOA claims they initially tried to resolve the issue internally, sending letters to the president of the university, but the situation was not resolved to their satisfaction.
"Because our efforts to resolve Jewish students' problems informally were fruitless, we sought the intervention of the government," Tuchman said.
If the investigation verifies the students' claims, Tuchman said, the employee in question should be fired. "The end goal is to make sure that Jewish students are feeling physically safe, emotionally safe, that they can take any class that they're interested in taking without worrying about getting a poor grade if they say something in support of Israel," Tuchman said. "It's making sure that Jewish students have a campus environment that's not hostile."
The Education Department is investigating Rutgers based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents race and ethnicity-based discrimination. The protection of Jewish students under this provision was withdrawn during the George W. Bush administration. Several groups, including the ZOA, lobbied the Office of Civil Rights for Jewish students to be considered under Title VI, leading to the guidance letter that Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali addressed to educators last October.
Ali wrote that though the Civil Rights Act does not cover discrimination based on religious beliefs, "groups that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics" will receive the same protection as other groups.
Since then, that interpretation was used to fuel an investigation on similar grounds into Columbia University.
Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor told the Huffington Post that the ZOA's claims were "not supported by the facts" and that the University has "a long tradition of working with and supporting the Jewish community, and a longstanding commitment to facilitate meaningful dialogue and promote civility among all members of our community." The university also included a video of their interfaith Thanksgiving, included below.
OCR ResponseOCR Resp. to ZOA's Title VI Complt 10-26-11
ZOA Letters To The President Of Rutgers