The US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has ruled that the University of Vermont (UVM) failed to respond to numerous complaints of antisemitism and anti-Zionist harassment and discrimination, according to a press release issued on Monday.
The announcement marks the first time the Biden administration has resolved a complaint of campus antisemitism and the first time ever that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act has been applied to anti-Zionist discrimination.
In light of the rulings, NGO StopAntisemitism called for the resignation of the University’s President, Suresh Garimella.
OCR began investigating the university in Oct. 2021 after the Brandeis Center filed a complaint alleging that a teaching assistant harassed UVM students who embraced Zionism and that student clubs, including UVM Empowering Survivors — a sexual assault awareness group — expelled them from their groups. Additionally, UVM’s Hillel Center was vandalized and no one was punished.
OCR said on Monday that the university did not investigate “serious allegations of harassment” and that “responsive steps” were “delayed,” effectively “discouraging” students and staff from coming forward in the future. Among the complaints the university left unaddressed was an allegation that an anti-Zionist teaching assistant bragged about giving Jewish students zero credit for class participation. In another complaint, the same professor allegedly celebrated when someone stole an Israeli flag from a Jewish student’s residence and captioned “Kristallnacht” on a post showing damage to a Jewish-owned business.
OCR announced that the complaint is resolved, with UVM agreeing to implement several reforms, including a top down review of its procedures for assessing discrimination complaints, new training for Bias Response Team members that emphasizes civil rights laws’ protections for national origin and shared ancestry, and a formal statement affirming its commitment to address antisemitism on campus.
In a statement, the University of Vermont said it assumes “responsibility to provide equal opportunity to all members of its community to fully express their identity in an environment free from discrimination and harassment.” The university also pledged to “use all tools at its disposal to eliminate the hostile behavior and enable each member of the community to learn and work in an environment unfettered by discrimination and harassment.”
UVM Hillel also welcomed OCR’s announcement, saying, “We are grateful to the many students, alumni, families, friends, and organizations who spoke out when Jewish students at UVM needed their support.”