With universities under pressure over antisemitism, NY governor warns of legal action if discrimination occurs

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Saturday warned state colleges and universities of “aggressive enforcement action” if discrimination laws are violated, as pressure mounts on schools across the country to deal with antisemitism on campus in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

Hochul’s letter letter comes just days after the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave widely criticized testimony before Congress, in which they failed to condemn calls for the genocide of Jews as explicitly against campus harassment and bullying codes.

On Saturday afternoon, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned effective immediately, according to a letter to the Penn community. She will remain on Penn’s faculty as a tenured professor at Penn Carey Law School.

Hochul’s letter directly addressed the presidents of the SUNY (State University of New York) and CUNY (City University of New York) systems.

“This week, like many Americans, I was shocked to see the presidents of several prominent universities – current leaders that are responsible for educating young minds who will grow into the leaders of tomorrow – fail to clearly and unequivocally denounce antisemitism and calls for genocide of the Jewish people on their college campuses,” the letter reads.

Hochul said she spoke with SUNY Chancellor John King and CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez, who both confirmed a call for genocide against any group of people would be considered a violation of the university systems’ code of conduct.

On Capitol Hill this week, Magill, along with Claudine Gay of Harvard University and Sally Kornbluth of MIT, did not explicitly say that calling for the genocide of Jews would necessarily violate their code of conduct, saying it would depend on the circumstances and conduct.

Their responses added fuel to a firestorm over antisemitism on American college campuses. Gay apologized for her remarks in an interview with the Harvard Crimson, while Magill had faced fierce pressure to resign.

Donors have threatened to withdraw their support from UPenn and Harvard if they failed to adequately address concerns of antisemitism on their campuses.

“The moral lapses that were evidenced by the disgraceful answers to questions posed during this week’s congressional hearing cannot and will not be tolerated here in the state of New York,” Hochul wrote in her letter.

She also warned the schools that fail to address “ antisemitism or hatred of any kind” against students for their ethnicity or nationality would be a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the New York State Human Rights Law.

“As Governor of New York I want to reinforce that colleges and universities not in compliance with federal and state laws protecting students against discrimination can be deemed ineligible to receive state and federal funds,” she wrote. “I assure you that if any school in New York State is found to be in violation, I will activate the State’s Division of Human Rights to take aggressive enforcement action and will refer possible Title VI violations to the federal government.”

Fourteen colleges and universities across the country are already under federal investigation by the Department of Education “for discrimination involving shared ancestry” since the October 7 attacks by Hamas and Israel’s subsequent strikes on Gaza.

While no SUNY or CUNY schools are on the list, the probes include three private New York institutions, Union College, Columbia University and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. New York City’s Department of Education is also being investigated.

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