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Sins of the Students

Jenni Fink at Newsweek has published an article on how the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) initiated an investigation into Williams College after a law professor alerted them to how the College Council discriminated against pro-Israel students.

NEWSWEEK: WILLIAMS COLLEGE INVESTIGATED FOR ALLEGED CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATION AFTER STUDENTS VOTE AGAINST PRO-ISRAEL GROUP

Fink’s story breaks some new ground. First, it appears that this issue is occurring elsewhere too. In April 2019, pro-Israel students hit New York University with a complaint to OCR claiming that school violated Title VI too.

Second, Fink reports on the motivations behind the report. “In my experience,” said David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University, “Jewish professionals on campus aren’t sufficiently assertive in such matters, and students have lots of others things on their plate, so I figured that if I didn’t do something, no one would.” Bernstein seems to get the on-campus climate. His observation is consistent with the school’s tepid initial response, seemingly endorsed by Rabbi Wax, that WIFI would enjoy separate and almost equal rights. Bernstein calls the situation “…a pretty open-and-shut case of discrimination.”

Third, Fink’s article describes the procedures involved.  “If OCR finds the organization failed to comply with the law, the first step is to negotiate a voluntary resolution agreement, which outlines specific remedial actions,” she writes. “In the event an organization rejects a resolution agreement, federal financial assistance can be withheld or the case can be referred to the Department of Justice.”

Fourth, Bernstein seems pretty insistent that Williams College acknowledge the gravity of the situation.

Bernstein credited Williams College with taking steps to mitigate the situation, but said it wasn’t solely an issue of poor procedures. He said it went past a “misgovernance problem” and was a problem of anti-Semitism, which required the college’s acknowledgment to alleviate.

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#1 Comment By anon On June 6, 2019 @ 8:48 am

But in this case the organization has now been officially recognized. Remedy has been provided. So, there probably is no standing. The harm required to have a case may not be present.

I must admit though, that the changes in positions from the college administration seem to be appropriated because of possible legal jeopardy. The chain of events suggests that President Mandel (and others in the administration) consulted an attorney, and that that attorney told them that there was possible liability if a group was denied full benefits based on religious association and/ or national origin.

Not sure when the college got notice that Prof Bernstein had filed a complaint? Whether the college’s change of position is based upon this complaint (because the college then asked a lawyer with practice in this area of law) or the college first consulted a lawyer and changed the position prior to the filing of the case is interesting to contemplate- because the latter would show an awareness and legal concern prior to being given legal notice. That however, does not equate to a moral concern.

At any rate- the possibility of legal action is probably at issue in the colleges shifting position. President Mandel’s first instinct to grant “some” rights, to split the difference, was a bad instinct both morally and legally. She seemed to be trying to split the apple.

The possibility of legal action gives the president the ability to change her original position while claiming a legal technicality/ truth rather than a moral certainty- which has to make one wonder…