U.S. Department Of Education Resolves Investigation At University Of Vermont In Response To Allegations Of Anti-Semitic Incidents

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Apr 28, 2023

On April 3, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved the investigation of a complaint regarding the University of Vermont’s failure to respond to anti-Semitic harassment. OCR is responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its corresponding implementing regulations, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, under any program or activity that receives Federal funding from the Department of Education.

The Complainant alleged that the University failed to respond appropriately to three different incidents:

  • In April and May 2021, a teaching assistant made a series of anti-Semitic public tweets.
  • On September 24, 2021, students threw “small rocks” and “items with a sticky substance” at the University’s Hillel building. When one student living in the dormitory portion of the building called out and asked them to stop throwing things, one of the students outside responded, “Are you Jewish?”
  • In May 2021, two student groups excluded Jewish students from group membership and one of the groups made anti-Semitic comments on social media.

OCR concluded that the University’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Office declined to investigate any of the complaints, even though the Complainant filed several complaints notifying the University of serious allegations of harassment. OCR also concluded that the responsive steps the University did take were delayed, not designed to rectify concerns communicated, and may have discouraged students and staff from raising further concerns with the University or participating in the OCR investigation.

In response to these findings, and to ensure full satisfaction of its obligations under Title VI, the University entered into a resolution agreement, committing the University to review and revise its policies and procedures, train university staff on investigating Title VI complaints, and issuing a statement with a commitment to address discrimination based on shared ancestry, among other tasks.  For more details, the letter to the University of Vermont is available here and the resolution agreement is available here.

Note: The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigated the University of Vermont for its failure to properly investigate and address complaints of anti-Semitic behavior by students and faculty. While OCR only has jurisdiction over institutions that accept federal funding, this investigation is an important reminder that all schools should follow their policies, including with respect to the investigation and handling of allegations of misconduct.

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