Updated Nov 17, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Education Dept. investigating alleged antisemitism, Islamophobia at 6 colleges

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Photo: Colin Myers/Claflin University/HBCU via Getty Images

The Department of Education has launched new investigations into 6 colleges and a K-12 school district over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Why it matters: The probes, announced Thursday, come as the Biden administration has pledged to "take aggressive action" to counter the surge in antisemitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incidents reported across the country since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

  • "Hate has no place in our schools, period," said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a statement.
  • "When students are targeted because they are—or are perceived to be—Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn."

The big picture: The investigations announced Thursday include: Lafayette College, Cornell University, Columbia University, Wellesley College, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the University of Pennsylvania. The Maize Unified School District in Kansas is also under investigation.

  • Five of the probes involve allegations of antisemitic harassment, and two concern allegations of anti-Muslim harassment, per the release.
  • The department will update the list of schools it is investigating weekly.
  • "We cannot comment on specific details of ongoing investigations," a Department of Education spokesperson told Axios in response to an inquiry for further details about the investigations.

Between the lines: Schools that fail to take action to address discrimination could risk losing federal funding or being referred to the Justice Department for "further action," per the release.

What they're saying: Wellesley College said in a statement that it welcomed the department's investigation.

  • "Wellesley has been committed to addressing issues of antisemitism on our campus and will continue to work to create an environment that supports free expression and rejects all forms of hate and discrimination," it added.

Lafayette College is fully cooperating with the investigation, said Scott Morse, a spokesperson for the school.

  • "We do not know why the OCR decided to include the College in this investigation," he said, noting that "our campus community has acted with care and kindness during this time."

Columbia University told Axios it did not have a comment about the investigation.

A Cornell University spokesperson told Axios in response to an inquiry about the investigation: "We do not have anything to share at this time."

The University of Pennsylvania said in a statement it would cooperate fully with the department's probe.

  • "The University is taking clear and comprehensive action to prevent, address, and respond to antisemitism," the statement said.

The Maize Unified School District had not received a copy of the complaint from the Education Department, a spokesperson said, and was "unable to make any further comment regarding this matter."

  • The spokesperson added that the Kansas school district was cooperating with the investigation.

The Cooper Union did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on Friday.

Editor's note: This story was updated with a comment from a Dept. of Education spokesperson.

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