In a letter dated March 7, 2011, responding to a complaint filed by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR) has agreed to open a Title VI investigation at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). The letter stated, “We have determined that the issue is appropriate for investigation under the laws enforced by OCR.” The letter also stated that OCR has identified the following issue for investigation:
The recipient (UCSC) “failed to take steps in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to respond to notice of a then existing hostile environment for Jewish Students based on their actual or perceived ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
Ms. Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), lodged a 29-page extensively documented Title VI Complaint with the OCR in June, 2009. The complaint alleges, among other things, that anti-Israel discourse and behavior in classrooms and that departmentally and university-sponsored events had created an “emotionally and intellectually hostile environment for Jewish students and had adversely affected their educational experience” at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). The complaint further alleges that:
- Professors, academic departments, and residential colleges that had promoted and encouraged anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views and behavior.
- That rhetoric heard in UCSC classrooms and at numerous events sponsored and funded by academic and administrative units on campus went beyond legitimate criticism of Israel and crossed the line into anti-Semitism according to the standards employed by the U.S. Department of State.
- That there were students who felt emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated, to the point that they were reluctant or afraid to express a view that was not anti-Israel.
- That some students stayed away from courses because they knew that the courses would be biased against Israel and intolerant of another legitimate point of view.
- A student described feeling “personally assaulted” by her professor when she tried to defend Israel from her professor’s attacks. Another Jewish student described her residential College’s sponsorship of a virulently anti-Israel event “more than hurtful, it’s absolutely unsettling.”
Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint also chronicled the failure of numerous efforts that she and others had made from 2001 to encourage UCSC faculty and administrators to acknowledge and address the problem.
A Title VI complaint was filed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) in 2004 on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine. Although the complaint was dismissed after a 3-year investigation, in 2008 the OCR initiated a new investigation of other allegations the ZOA made on behalf of Jewish students at UC Irvine. That investigation is still open.