Education

Did UVM respond to anti-semitism on campus? Investigation underway

UVM preparing response to federal probe

Williams Hall at UVM

Republished from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

The U.S. Department of Education will investigate whether the University of Vermont allowed hatred against Jewish students to fester on campus, according to a law firm that supported students in filing a civil rights complaint against the school.

The investigation is the latest in a series opened by the education department’s civil rights office into allegations of antisemitism on college campuses.

The complaint alleges that UVM violated its Jewish students’ civil rights by failing to respond adequately to multiple incidents last year, including individuals throwing rocks at the campus Hillel; exclusion of pro-Israel students from student groups; and social media posts by a teaching assistant about lowering the grades of Zionist students.

“We’re really tired of not seeing anything be done,” Avi Zatz, a former University of Vermont student involved in the complaint, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Zatz transferred out of the university after his sophomore year, due to what he said was an untenable antisemitic climate on campus. He currently attends the University of Florida, and is also a university action coordinator with Jewish on Campus, a college antisemitism watchdog group that filed the civil rights complaint with the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a pro-Israel legal group that often gets involved in campus legal issues.

Earlier this year, Jewish On Campus said UVM had the highest rate of reported antisemitic incidents out of all North American college campuses in 2021, according to its own research. The group’s data was criticized by the left-leaning Jewish group IfNotNow for counting what it said was “student critics of Israeli policy” as antisemitic, although Zatz told JTA that, even after discounting the incidents that could reasonably be defined as Israel discourse, the number of antisemitic incidents at the school remained high.

“Antisemitism keeps me awake at night,” Matt Vogel, UVM Hillel’s executive director, wrote in an email to parents this week as the new semester began.

Among the long list of social media posts highlighted by the complaint as contributing to a campus climate of antisemitism are examples of student groups rejecting students with Zionist viewpoints from joining. A student support group for sexual assault survivors, UVM Empowering Survivors, posted on Instagram that it would exclude Zionists, writing, “If you don’t support Palestinian liberation you don’t support survivors,” and adding, “we have multiple Jewish-identifying members who are all advocates for Palestinian’s [sic] freedom.”

In addition, the complaint cited tweets from a UVM teaching assistant who pondered “not giv[ing] Zionists credit for participation” and praised a student who stole an Israeli flag from campus. 

The complaint echoes another recent federal complaint filed in collaboration with the Brandeis Center last month on behalf of two Jewish students at SUNY New Paltz, one of whom identified as a sexual assault survivor, who were also kicked out of a student-led survivor group — in their case after sharing a pro-Israel Instagram post. That incident was featured on a national CNN broadcast about antisemitism in America.

Such instances of exclusion are examples of antisemitic campus activity that goes beyond speech and into conduct that affects Jewish students’ academic lives, said Alyza Lewin, president of the Brandeis Center.

“When Jewish students are being denied equal access to educational opportunities, when they are being excluded from clubs and programs and opportunities that are afforded to all other students purely on the basis of this integral part of their Jewish identity, namely their Zionism, that’s a form of harassment and discrimination that universities must take seriously,” Lewin told JTA. If they don’t, she said, “they, too, will find themselves the subjects of an [Office of Civil Rights] investigation.”

“The University is aware of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigation and is looking forward to providing the agency with a full response to the underlying allegations, each of which was reported to the university in 2021 and investigated by campus officials,” a UVM spokesperson told JTA in a statement late Tuesday. The statement added that the university “seeks to foster a culture of inclusiveness for all students, faculty, and staff, including members of our Jewish community and does not tolerate acts of bias or discrimination related to religion, race, culture, gender, or sexual orientation on our campus.

In a statement, Vogel said the Brandeis Center and Jewish on Campus represented valuable support for Jewish students and Hillel would continue to play a role in improving the climate at UVM.

“There is no place for hatred at the University of Vermont, and we look forward to continuing working together as a UVM community toward a campus climate that makes all students feel safe and welcome on campus,” Vogel said.

Burlington, the progressive bastion where the university is located, has been a flashpoint for Israel debates in the past year, including a near-vote on a Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions resolution last fall. The resolution’s sponsor pulled the bill, citing concerns about antisemitism. Vogel and a Jewish UVM contingent were present at the debate, which the Hillel director described as a time “when I felt an existential threat as a Jew.”

The city, which has a Jewish mayor, is also the headquarters of ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, which has been engaged in a yearlong legal battle over its board’s intention to stop selling its products in the West Bank.

At least a half-dozen investigations into campus antisemitism have been launched since the Trump administration instructed the Department of Education to include antisemitism under its civil rights purview in 2019. The most recent example was at the University of Southern California, where an investigation launched in July over the campus’s treatment of a Jewish ex-student government leader. 

Categories: Education

9 replies »

  1. Excellent article, Guy!
    Supporting Israel will get reporters blacklisted by biased “journalists” here in Vermont, too. The Barre Times and the Burlington Free Press for decades printed my contribu-tions until 2016. Sadly, these haters do not know the facts behind the Israel/Arab Conflict. Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Pipes, David Bar-Illan are just a few writers who could set these rabid PC protesters straight.
    Had the Arabs accepted the 1948 Partition Plan, instead of having their armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq attack Israel, THERE WOULD NOT BE A PALESTINIAN REFUGEE PROBLEM. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Isaiah 5:20

    • I’m not sure that there would not have been a refugee issue. After all, the 1948 plan created a Jewish state with 407,000 arabs (45% of the total). Their contentment to live within a jewish state might not have been too high. Similarly, the arab state would have contained 10,000 jews (1% of the population). They may have been similarly unhappy – but of course they were only 2,5% of the number of arabs that would have been present in a state that was not of their choosing.

      Of course, adding up the numbers, there were twice as many arabs present in the British Palestine mandate area as there were jews. Viewed purely numericaly, it is not difficult to see why a block holding 2/3 of the population would be aggrieved at being asked to give up land for a minority.

      • @ Guzziman

        You might want to look into all of the efforts that were made to keep Jews out of the land that would become the modern state of Israel, by both the British and the Arabs. Also into the horrific murders of Jews there at the hands of Arabs. In fact had Jewish immigration been allowed and not restricted, the deaths of 6 million Jews in Europe need not have happened. There’s so much that most people here, who are “educated “ on the subject by leftist media and publications are totally unaware of. And never forget that this, Israel, is the historic homeland of the Jews, given to them by God, long before Muslims were even a “thing”. So maybe if you don’t like it, go argue with God.

  2. @VTIndependent: Good points, but you don’t deny mine. Also, ‘unrestricted immigration’ being prevented is clearly not a new phenomenon. This was not ‘terra nulis’ – there were already people there. The fact being that they also thought that they had a ‘deed’ from God.

    Applying your same logic, you would presumably strongly support the immigration of people coming from areas of repression and danger into the US? After all, surely the Guatemalans, Afghans and Ethiopians of 2022 should get the same treatment as the jews of 1948?

    And while jews were undoubtably killed by arabs, what say you to the King David Hotel bombing? (A relative of mine was killed in this attack) Or the Abu Shusha massacre? Did not both sides commit heinous attrocities?

  3. Guzziman-

    All of your points are totally extraneous. Students should be able to attend a public university without being harassed for their religious beliefs or identification with Israel as the Jewish homeland. You’re essentially saying it’s ok to engage in antisemitism because the Arabs don’t like Jews living in Israel.

    • True – But I was responding to the post by Peter Fernandez, not to the original article. And where did I say “it’s ok to engage in antisemitism because the Arabs don’t like Jews living in Israel?” Because I have re-read my post and can’t find it anywhere.

      So to avoid you putting words in my mouth I will speak for myself rather than having you go the effort to conjure up words for me: Antisemitism in all forms is abhorrent and should be exposed.

  4. We live in the age when someone’s opining and utterings on private social media are considered ripe for criminal or civil actions against them…just ask conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Of course, ideological bias determines whose ox gets gored. For years UVM in general has put on the face of a semi-official pro-Palestine bias. That’s no excuse for vandalism, bullying and especially academic retribution. If credible evidence indicates that someone acting in an official capacity of UVM even threatened to give lower grades to a student because of an ideological bias, that teaching assistant should be thrown out of that Vermont and federal govt taxpayer-supported institution without delay.

  5. From the President of UVM:

    Dear Members of the UVM Community,

    This week’s media coverage of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) into an anonymous third party’s allegations that the university failed to adequately respond to complaints of anti-Jewish, biased behavior at UVM has painted our community in a patently false light.

    While common wisdom dictates remaining patiently silent as we cooperate diligently with an agency’s investigation, I simply cannot do so. These public allegations and our community’s deeply held values call for a strong and immediate response.

    UVM is a community with a long, proud history of inclusiveness. We denounce hateful actions and respond briskly and decisively whenever those responsible are identified. UVM is home to a strong and vibrant Jewish community and is recognized as a place where—year after year—many Jewish students, faculty, and staff choose to study, teach, conduct research, practice medicine, and work. As a community, we adhere to Our Common Ground values of respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility.

    The uninformed narrative published this week has been harmful to UVM. Equally importantly, it is harmful to our Jewish students, faculty, staff, and alumni. There is no doubt that antisemitism exists in the world and, despite our best efforts, in our community. Exploitation of fear and divisiveness by advancing false claims that UVM failed to respond to complaints of antisemitic behavior creates confusion and a sense of insecurity for the entire community.

    I therefore would like to set the record straight regarding the OCR complaint by sharing the core elements of UVM’s forthcoming response.
    An OCR investigation is not triggered by any finding that a complaint has merit or that UVM has done something wrong. Rather, it signals that the person or entity that filed the complaint has alleged a civil rights violation against a college or university within the Department of Education’s jurisdiction.

    ​Once opened, the OCR investigation gives the university the opportunity to respond to the allegations. UVM vigorously denies the false allegation of an insufficient response to complaints of threats and discrimination, as will be demonstrated in our response to OCR.

    The complaint alleges UVM failed to adequately respond to three specific incidents:
    Allegation 1. The complaint alleges that the university did not adequately respond to student reports of antisemitism by a teaching assistant. University response to the incident: A university community member reported on September 6, 2021, that an undergraduate teaching assistant made antisemitic remarks and threatened to lower the grades of Jewish students on their personal social media accounts prior to serving as a TA. The university took prompt action to ensure that the objectionable statements did not adversely impact students in the classroom and further, to perform a thorough review to ensure all grades were awarded on a non-discriminatory basis. No student reported to the university that this teaching assistant harassed or discriminated against them. The university’s response to the report was completed by September 30, 2021.

    Allegation 2. A group of university students threw rocks at the Hillel building. University’s response to the incident: On September 24, 2021, UVM Police responded to a report regarding students throwing small rocks at the Hillel building. The incident was reported to the university administration as an incident of hate and bias the following day. The investigation was immediate, and it was quickly determined that the students who threw the small rocks at a window of the Hillel building were doing so to get the attention of a friend who was convalescing in the building while recovering from an illness, that the throwing stopped after they got a student’s attention, and that there was no reported damage to the building. There was no evidence of any threatening behavior or that the conduct was motivated by antisemitic bias. The university’s review and response to the police and administrative reports was completed by September 28, 2021.

    Allegation 3. Two UVM student organizations excluded students who “expressed support for Zionism” from membership in their organizations. University’s response to the incident: On September 30, 2021, students reported this conduct to university administration. The university investigated the report quickly and thoroughly and determined that the groups who apparently made these statements were not recognized UVM student organizations. The unrecognized organizations received no university support and were not bound by UVM’s policies governing student organizations. To ensure an inclusive environment within recognized UVM student organizations, student leaders were reminded of university policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, national origin, or any other protected category.
    It is important that our community know the truth about what happened, and how the university responded. Although the allegations were investigated and addressed, we recognize we can and should do more to support the success of our students. University leaders have reached out on several occasions to our Jewish students over the last year to understand their experiences on our campus, to provide them with the tools they need to respond to incidents of bias and discrimination, and to work with them to better understand the climate in which they are living and learning.

    Our work in understanding and eliminating antisemitism will never be complete. Over the past year, university leaders have reviewed, updated, and consolidated our bias reporting processes to make them more accessible to those who need them. A few weeks ago, I joined other university leaders, government officials, and civic leaders for Project Interchange, a hands-on immersive learning opportunity hosted in Israel by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Our provost and senior vice president, Patty Prelock, actively participated in a Summit to Combat Campus Antisemitism with more than 40 higher education leaders in New York. We will continue to learn and support UVM’s Jewish community to ensure that any future incidents that might occur will be addressed with immediacy and sensitivity to what they are experiencing.

    If you have concerns or want to report an incident of antisemitism, please know that you can do so at any time at uvm.edu/reporting. The university’s response will be supportive, thorough, and timely.

    Sincerely,

    Suresh V. Garimella
    President

  6. On behalf of all the Jews that have graduated and already paid off their loans, a lawsuit is justified to get some money back. If reparations are the new buzz word, sue them into bankruptcy.

Leave a Reply