Federal complaints accusing the University of California campuses in Berkeley and Santa Cruz of failing to curb hostile environments for Jewish students were dismissed.
A complaint filed last year with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the Berkeley campus by two recent graduates referred specifically to the annual February Apartheid Week demonstration. It charged that the demonstration violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars the recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education extended Title VI to include the protection of Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campuses.
The Office of Civil Rights investigation, which included interviews with students and observations of the demonstrations, concluded this week that events described in the complaint did not constitute harassment but rather “expression on matters of public concern directed to the university community.”
“In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience,” the probe concluded.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said the claim of a hostile environment for Jewish students at Berkeley “is, on its face, entirely unfounded.” Dirks added, “We will continue our ongoing efforts to protect free speech rights while promoting respectful dialogue and maintaining a campus environment that is safe for all our students.”
In a complaint against UC Santa Cruz, the Office of Civil Rights in a letter said it determined that the events described in the complaint “do not constitute actionable harassment.” The investigation, opened in March 2011, focused on two events on campus in which speakers were critical of Israeli policies, on two other talks that had been planned but never took place and on several incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti.
The civil rights office determined that the campus “took prompt action to investigate … and to remove the graffiti.”
“This campus values the free and open expression of ideas, and we diligently safeguard our students’ civil rights,” Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal said. “We are, therefore, pleased that these allegations have been thoroughly investigated and dismissed.”