Probe finds two universities failed to protect Jewish and Muslim students

The federal Education Department said Monday that two universities failed to adequately protect both Jewish and Muslim students in the heated days after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and during the war in Gaza that followed.

Both the University of Michigan and the City University of New York (CUNY) and several of its affiliated colleges agreed to reexamine some past cases and to conduct training, among other actions, to resolve federal investigations into student complaints amid the Middle East conflict. Jewish and Palestinian students have described harassment and other incidents of discrimination, with reports of hostile language, disrupted classes, vandalism and more.

“Hate has no place on our college campuses — ever,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. He called the resolutions a positive step forward but said, “Sadly, we have witnessed a series of deeply concerning incidents in recent months.”

The cases are the first since Oct. 7 to be resolved by the Education Department. Some department investigations related to antisemitism and Islamophobia were pending before the war, but the number has spiked as campuses across the country have become engulfed by pro-Palestinian protests. An additional 106 cases are pending at the Office for Civil Rights in the Education Department, involving both universities and K-12 school districts, a spokeswoman said.

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said the university was grateful to the Office for Civil Rights for collaborating on a holistic plan to ensure that all students are safe on its campuses. “CUNY is committed to providing an environment that is free from discrimination and hate, and these new steps will ensure that there is consistency and transparency in how complaints are investigated and resolved,” he said.

University of Michigan President Santa J. Ono said in a statement that the university condemns “all forms of discrimination, racism and bias.” He added: “Since October 7, we have been deeply troubled by the statements and actions of some members of our community.” The university is required to uphold free-speech principles, including reprehensible speech, but it works to ensure that “debate does not tip over into targeted harassment or bullying,” Ono said.

In its investigation of the University of Michigan, the Office for Civil Rights reviewed 75 reports of harassment and discrimination since the 2022-23 school year and found the university did virtually no investigations. There was also “no evidence” that the university complied with its legal requirements under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the report said. The provision bars discrimination based on shared ancestry, including against those who are Jewish or Muslim.


The details of the investigation highlight the struggle universities have faced in balancing free-speech rights against harassment. Incidents cited in the Michigan report included antisemitic comments in classes, during protests and online.

One incident involved an October 2023 event on the central campus in Ann Arbor, where protesters shouted about “Nazi liberation,” the investigation concluded. The Office for Civil Rights said it could not find evidence that the university responded to the event beyond forwarding the report to its public affairs office for a response.

That same month, the office said, a Jewish student reported being targeted and harassed on social media. The student reported that he had viewed a graduate-student instructor’s Instagram story that included discussion of pro-Palestinian topics. After that, the instructor took a screenshot showing that the student had viewed the story and then posted his own story, tagging the student and showing that he had an Israeli flag in his bio. The instructor wrote, “Did you like my educational talk.”

The university declined to formally adjudicate the situation, saying social media is “largely going to be protected as free speech,” the investigation concluded. It found that this response was insufficient.

In another, widely reported incident in November 2023, a student reported that someone yelled that she had “terrorist” friends because she participated in a pro-Palestinian protest. The university responded with a restorative circle, a commonly used alternative to discipline in which those involved are encouraged to apologize, but it did not take further action. This was also listed among cases in which there were inadequate responses.

“Everyone has a right to learn in an environment free from discriminatory harassment based on who they are,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, said in a statement.

At the City University of New York and its affiliated colleges, there were nine pending complaints from both Jewish and Muslim students, and the resolution agreement announced Monday covers them all.

In the earliest case, the investigation found that in 2021, students and faculty members at Hunter College commandeered a required college course in a call for what they described as the decolonization of Palestinian territories. When Jewish students tried to speak, they were told to listen and not talk, investigators found. The federal investigation concluded that Hunter’s response to the incident was inadequate.

To resolve these complaints, both universities agreed, among other things, to review or reopen previously filed complaints; report the results to the federal government; train employees regarding the university’s legal obligations to respond to alleged discrimination; and administer climate surveys to evaluate the extent to which students and employees experience or witness discrimination and harassment based on race, color or national origin, including shared ancestry.