Feds slam University of Michigan for not investigating hate on campus against Jews, Arabs

The U.S. Department of Education said Monday that the University of Michigan failed to respond appropriately to complaints about bias and hate on campus.

The department's Office for Civil Rights issued a statement and an agreement they reached with the university that said there were 75 bias incidents from the 2022-23 school year through February 2024. Many of them appear to be anti-Jewish or anti-Arab incidents, according to the report released by the federal department. There have been several campus protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict, increasing in frequency after Oct. 7.

U-M undergraduate students include Josh Brown, right, and Sydni Hite, center right, stand with Israel flags at U-M's Diag in Ann Arbor to support Israel as a another group of students walk out to protest university administration's proposed disruptive activity policy also at the Diag on Thursday, April 4, 2024.
U-M undergraduate students include Josh Brown, right, and Sydni Hite, center right, stand with Israel flags at U-M's Diag in Ann Arbor to support Israel as a another group of students walk out to protest university administration's proposed disruptive activity policy also at the Diag on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

The department's office for civil rights "is concerned that the University appears not to have taken steps to assess whether incidents about which it had notice individually or cumulatively created a hostile environment for students, faculty, or staff," the department said. U-M also failed "to take steps reasonably calculated to end the hostile environment, remedy its effects and prevent its recurrence."

The department said it has reached a resolution with the university in two incidents involving antisemitism. Some Jewish groups have complained about increased antisemitism on campus in recent months. Arab American students have also expressed concern about anti-Arab bias.

"While the University may not discipline speakers for protected speech, the University retains a Title VI legal obligation to take other steps as necessary to ensure that no hostile environment based on shared ancestry persists," the department of education said. "At minimum, therefore, the University has an obligation to evaluate whether any incidents of harassment of which it has notice rise to the level that they create a hostile environment to which the University must respond promptly and effectively."

In one case, a Jewish student supportive of Israel was targeted and harassed by a graduate student instructor with pro-Palestinian views, the department's report said. In another case in November 2023, a student was accused of having terrorist friends because she took part in a pro-Palestinian rally.

In response to Monday's announcement, University of Michigan President Santa Ono said in a statement provided by university spokesperson Dana Elger that the "university condemns all forms of discrimination, racism and bias in the strongest possible terms. Since Oct. 7, we have been deeply troubled by the statements and actions of some members of our community."

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But Ono added that the university “is required to uphold free speech under the First Amendment, even if that speech is reprehensible. We continually work to educate our community around the rights and privileges of free speech to ensure that debate does not tip over into targeted harassment or bullying. This agreement reflects the university’s commitment to ensuring it has the tools needed to determine whether an individual’s acts or speech creates a hostile environment, and taking the affirmative measures necessary to provide a safe and supportive educational environment for all.”

U-M students chant Occupation No More and Israel Is a Terrorist State as they rally during the encampment for Gaza at the Diag in Ann Arbor on Monday, April 22, 2024.
U-M students chant Occupation No More and Israel Is a Terrorist State as they rally during the encampment for Gaza at the Diag in Ann Arbor on Monday, April 22, 2024.

Under the agreement, the university assures the department of education that it will take actions such as training and reviewing policies to resolve the complaints and ensure compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It's unclear how many of the 75 incidents mentioned in the report were about anti-Jewish or anti-Arab bias. Spokespeople for the university did not respond Monday to questions from the Free Press about details mentioned in the report.

On May 21, police shut down a tent encampment at the university protesting Israel. The protesters have called for the university to divest from Israel, which university regents oppose. Some protesters have also demonstrated outside the homes of regents, drawing criticism from university officials and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Contact Niraj Warikoo:nwarikoo@freepress.com or X @nwarikoo

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Education Department slams University of Michigan over hate on campus

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