ACLJ Files Title VI Complaint Against City University of New York for Antisemitic Discrimination


Mark Goldfeder

July 21, 2022

This week the ACLJ filed a Title VI complaint on behalf of a number of concerned stakeholders and community members regarding a sustained pattern of antisemitic activity which the City University of New York (“CUNY” or the “University”) has willfully ignored.  We asked the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate and determine whether CUNY has engaged in discrimination and the permission of a hostile environment, and other violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., and its implementing regulation at 34 C.F.R. § 100 (Title VI).

Over the last ten years, the harassment on CUNY campuses has become so commonplace as to almost be normalized.  Antisemitic flyers with vulgar comments about religious Jews—incredible as it may seem, even swastikas—are regularly observed on CUNY campuses. Attacking, denigrating, and threatening “Zionists” has become the norm, with the crystal-clear understanding that “Zionist” is now merely an epithet for “Jew.”  Jewish faculty and staff members at CUNY have faced pervasive, antisemitic discrimination and CUNY has done nothing to protect them, thereby tacitly endorsing the widespread antisemitism and discrimination.

The antisemitism at CUNY has already led officials in the New York City Council to pull $50,000 in funding that had been earmarked for the school and to launch their own investigation. A hearing was originally scheduled for June 8, 2022, but was postponed when at the last minute, CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez canceled his appearance, citing a scheduling conflict but noting that he did want to attend. The hearing was delayed until June 30th to accommodate him; but the night before the rescheduled hearing, the Chancellor again backed out. This time the hearing proceeded without his involvement. Students and professors testified about how they have been targeted for their Jewish faith; how they fear for their physical and emotional well-being; how they have been assaulted, demonized, and harassed; and how they regularly hear antisemitic slurs, including calls for the murder of Jews. Meanwhile, the CUNY administrators who did attend admitted that they do not have systemwide training on antisemitism, and in fact, they do not even log antisemitic incidents. At the hearing, CUNY officials also noted that they do not use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism – the definition that they sign onto every year when they take money from the federal government and affirm that they will abide by Title VI.

In short, CUNY has become a hotbed for discrimination and antisemitism. Students and faculty have complained about the antisemitic climate and CUNY has failed to take any significant action to address the pervasively hostile environment for Jewish students. The clear message that CUNY is communicating is that the administration is deliberately indifferent to the concerns and well-being of its Jewish population.  Affected community members have been physically excluded from some events, and indifference to their legitimate concerns and complaints has made them feel unwelcome at many more.  Without prompt and appropriate action, Jewish students will continue to be victimized by CUNY’s implied consent for antisemitic discrimination and racism, will be unable to participate at additional campus functions, and will continue to be harassed and excluded. 

At the ACLJ, we have detailed a long history of systemic antisemitism in the CUNY system and have taken direct action to confront the Univeristy. Now by filing a Title VI complaint, we are seeking to hold the University accountable.

CUNY’s actions and inactions took place in the face of rising antisemitism in the United States – and on campuses in particular – despite earnest and persistent pressure by the affected community to stand up to the bigotry and discrimination and do something about it. For years, CUNY has refused to hold anyone accountable in any meaningful way, but we at the ACLJ will not let that status quo continue. CUNY has admitted in a public hearing that they do not follow the standards in Title VI. In our complaint, we asked that the Department of Education intervene and make sure that the University either corrects its ways or immediately loses all its funding.