Ed Department reopens case alleging discrimination against Jewish Rutgers students
- The Education Department is reopening a 2014 case against Rutgers University that charged it discriminated against Jewish students, according to The New York Times. The move is at the direction of its new head of civil rights, who has been an advocate for limiting anti-Israel speech and activity on campuses.
- In 2011, a Zionist group alleged Rutgers officials discriminated against Jewish and pro-Israel students by charging admission to a pro-Palestinian event. The event's organizers said the last-minute fee was necessary to cover related security costs after the university became aware Jewish groups were organizing a protest. The department did not find discrimination in the fee's application.
- In a letter obtained by The Times, Kenneth L. Marcus, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, said he planned to review the case in the context of discrimination against an ethnic group. The decision could allow opponents of Zionism to be viewed more strictly in civil rights enforcement.
While the Trump administration has taken foreign policy positions favoring Israel, the action by Marcus is seen as an attempt to target anti-Israel student groups with civil rights investigations by conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, according to the Wall Street Journal. Marcus's confirmation was challenged by 200 civil rights organizations who said he would have too narrow a view on civil rights cases.
The Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos has been criticized for not enforcing civil rights law aggressively enough, having closed some 1,200 investigations opened under the Obama administration, according to ProPublica. A spokesperson for the department said it was attempting to close cases where there was insufficient evidence or clearly no violation in order to speed up the process and provide "much-needed closure for both students and institutions" while restoring the Office for Civil Rights to a position as "neutral fact-finders."
The Trump administration through the Justice Department has stepped into another case impacting higher education, supporting a lawsuit against Harvard University by a group claiming the university in its admissions review consistently ranked Asian-American students lower than those from other races for personal characteristics such as likability, kindness and respect. The anti-affirmative action group representing the students said Asian-American applicants had higher test scores and grades than those of other racial or ethnic groups, and the consistent poor ratings in other admissions categories were a violation of their civil rights.
The Education Department has weighed in recently on other controversial issues on campus. It has been criticized for loosening rules and other guidance establishing colleges' oversight of sexual misconduct allegations and investigations, and for changes in policies on student loan forgiveness for borrowers defrauded by for-profit colleges. DeVos has also been vocal about changing policies about guns and security on campuses and in K-12 schools.