Michigan and CUNY Mishandled Discrimination Complaints, Education Dept. Finds

The University of Michigan and the City University of New York mishandled complaints of discrimination on campus during widespread protests over the war in Gaza, the Education Department announced on Monday.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights has opened dozens of investigations into antisemitism and anti-Arab discrimination as students held rallies and set up encampments in support of Palestinians and called for their schools to divest from Israel.

The Michigan and New York cases were only the first to reach a conclusion. More are expected to finish in the coming weeks and months as schools continue to reckon with the limits of free speech in academic settings.

Under the terms of the agreements announced on Monday, the schools must step up their reporting of complaints to the Office for Civil Rights and revisit their training of employees, including campus police officers, about their obligations under federal law.

“Sadly, we have witnessed a series of deeply concerning incidents in recent months,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said. “There’s no question that this is a challenging moment for school communities across the country.”

“The recent commitments made by the University of Michigan and CUNY mark a positive step forward,” he said.

The Education Department said that in some cases, the protests devolved into a “hostile environment” for certain students that the schools failed to address.

At Michigan, the department said the university did little when a student reported being shouted down and accused of “supporting rape and murder” along with “terrorist friends” during a November rally in support of Palestinians.

The agreement with CUNY addressed nine complaints dating as far back as 2019 across its university system, including Hunter College, Baruch College, Queens College and the City University of New York School of Law.

The department detailed one instance in 2021 in which students and faculty members at Hunter disrupted an online class by “commandeering the scheduled course discussion to use the class time to call for the decolonization of Palestine.” In its letter to CUNY, the department listed other complaints, including several since Oct. 7, in which Palestinian students reported bullying and unequal treatment such as the selective cancellation of pro-Palestinian events and the removal pro-Palestinian fliers.

The department’s investigations fall under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on a student’s perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.

The department generally does not comment on pending investigations, but it has acknowledged that many of the recent inquiries stem from complaints of antisemitism or anti-Arab harassment in schools across the country.

Criticism of the way schools have balanced the goal of protecting speech with the safety and well-being of students has led to high-profile clashes between school leaders and Congress, the resignation of several university presidents and internal disputes among faculty members at many schools.

In both cases that concluded on Monday, the department required the schools to conduct a “climate assessment” survey by December 2025 “to evaluate the extent to which students and/or employees are subjected to or witness discrimination and harassment based on race, color and national origin,” to help the department measure progress.

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