newsSchools & Higher Education

Biden admin closes probe of Brown, after school seemed to overlook bias, including Jew-hatred

A former U.S. education senior adviser called the agreement “very vague on details” and asked if it was “a press release meant to show ‘accountability.’”

A pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel student tent encampment at Brown University in Providence, R.I., April 29, 2024. Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel via Wikimedia Commons.
A pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel student tent encampment at Brown University in Providence, R.I., April 29, 2024. Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel via Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Department of Education announced on Monday that it came to an agreement with Brown University to close its investigation of the Ivy League school for allegedly turning a blind eye to bias, including Jew-hatred, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“I commend Brown University for assessing its own campus climate and undertaking responsive reforms to comply with Title VI, in addition to the terms it agrees today to undertake in response to OCR’s investigation,” stated Catherine Lhamon, U.S. assistant secretary for civil rights. 

The department’s Office for Civil Rights looks forward to working with the university in Providence, R.I., “to ensure a nondiscriminatory learning environment for its Jewish, Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian students and students of all other backgrounds,” Lhamon added.

The original complaint that the department investigated was filed in December—the same month that StopAntisemitism gave Brown an ‘F’ grade for Jew-hatred on its campus—and alleged anti-Jewish bias, according to the Education Department. The department announced the investigation in January.

The department wrote to Brown on Monday that it opened an investigation on Jan. 9 about whether the school “failed to respond to alleged harassment of students based on national origin (shared Jewish ancestry) in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title VI.”

The department “reviewed records and information provided by the complainant, the university and publicly available information,” it added. “These materials also reflected incidents of alleged harassment of students based on national origin on other bases, specifically shared Palestinian, Arab and/or Muslim ancestry.”

Brown received about 75 allegations of “antisemitic, anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim harassment against students from October 2023 through late March 202,” the Education Department added in a press release.

“But the university appears to have taken no or little action in response other than to acknowledge receipt of the reports, list support resources and request to meet with the complainant, consistent with its policies then in effect,” it stated. (It didn’t say how many of the 75 alleged Jew-hatred.)

The “reports include allegations of serious harm, including, for example: allegations that students pointed at a Jewish classmate’s Star of David jewelry and yelled ‘Zionist pig Jew’; a Palestinian-American student’s roommate berated them about their Palestinian-American identity for weeks; and students blocked a Jewish classmate from attending a pro-Palestinian rally,” it added.

In the agreement announced on Monday, the university “voluntarily agreed to clarify and enhance existing policies and procedures related to the resolution of discrimination and harassment complaints, including those related to antisemitism,” Brown stated.

“While entering the agreement, the university denied that it violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when handling the matters alleged in a complaint filed with OCR that prompted the agreement,” it continued. “The complaint had been filed by the editor of the Campus Reform online media outlet who has no affiliation with Brown or presence on its campus.”

“The university is satisfied that the voluntary resolution with OCR enforces and reaffirms Brown’s commitment to strengthening our policies, systems and operations to ensure a campus environment where students, faculty and staff are safe and supported,” stated Russell Carey, Brown’s executive vice president for planning and policy and interim vice president for campus life.

In its statement, Brown claimed that “many of the required actions outlined in the resolution agreement were underway and previously announced by the university.” Those included creating the Office of Equity Compliance and Reporting and “development of education and training on nondiscrimination and harassment principles, as well as steps to clarify guidance about appropriate responses to protected speech that some may find offensive,” it added.

The U.S. Department of Education said that the agreement includes Brown “conducting a review of the university’s response to complaints and reports of antisemitic and other shared ancestry discrimination during the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 academic years, and taking remedial actions if required.”

Brown also agreed, per the department, to conduct “annual nondiscrimination training” for every Brown employee and undergraduate, graduate and medical student starting in the fall.

“The training shall reference examples of discrimination and harassment, including antisemitism, when based on national origin, including actual or perceived shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics,” according to the agreement.

Last week, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), chair of the House Republican Conference, cosponsored legislation to “impose penalties on education institutions who fail to protect the civil rights of their students after antisemitic incidents on college campuses increased by 700% following the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.”

“Under current federal law, a violation of Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, can result in the loss of federal funds, but oftentimes results in a mere corrective action that would bring the college or university back into compliance,” Stefanik’s office stated.

Michael Brickman, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former senior adviser to the U.S. undersecretary of education, wrote that the Education Department’s agreement with Brown was “concerning” by being “very vague on details.”

“Is this real accountability or a press release meant to show ‘accountability,’” he wrote.

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