Penn was accused of antisemitism in federal complaints filed last week. Officials at Lafayette said it was unclear why their school was being investigated.
WASHINGTON — The federal government has opened civil rights investigations into seven schools and universities over allegations of antisemitism or Islamophobia since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.
The list includes two Pennsylvania schools, the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Lafayette College in Easton. The other institutions being investigated are Columbia University and Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York; Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.; and Wellesley College in Massachusetts. It also includes one K-12 system, the Maize Unified School District in Kansas.
The Education Department announced the inquiries on Thursday, calling it part of the Biden administration’s effort to take “aggressive action” against discrimination. Schools found to have violated civil rights law can face penalties up to a total loss of federal money, although the vast majority of cases end in voluntary settlements.
Schools have a legal duty to act “when students are targeted because they are — or are perceived to be — Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a written statement.
Five of the investigations are in response to allegations of antisemitic harassment, while two are in response to allegations of anti-Muslim harassment, the department said. The agency did not disclose which schools faced which accusations. Details about individual complaints were not released.
Penn and Wellesley were accused of antisemitism in federal complaints filed last week by the Brandeis Center, a Jewish legal advocacy group.
In a Nov. 9 letter to the Education Department, the center says Penn professors have made antisemitic statements in the classroom and on social media. It said many Jewish students are afraid to be on campus during pro-Palestinian rallies, and that the university has done little to support them.
Penn officials said they’re cooperating with the investigation.
University President Liz Magill “has made clear antisemitism is vile and pernicious and has no place at Penn,” the school said. “The university will continue to vigilantly combat antisemitism and all forms of hate.”
Officials at Lafayette said it was unclear to them why their school was being investigated.
“The College maintains a firm stance against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hate speech of any kind. The College is cooperating and will continue to cooperate fully with the DOE in their investigation,” the college said in a written statement.