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September 24, 2016 / 21 Elul, 5776
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UC Jewish Prof: Civil Rights Office Rolling Back Protection for Jews

The Office of Civil Rights seems to have rolled back the recent extension of protection from anti-Jewish discrimination on campuses.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin teaches at UC Santa Cruz. She filed a Title VI Complaint in 2009, and an appeal in 2013

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin teaches at UC Santa Cruz. She filed a Title VI Complaint in 2009, and an appeal in 2013
Photo Credit: Facebook

Again, the OCR mischaracterized Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint, ignoring what she was actually complaining about and instead discussing, then rejecting as not actionable what was not at all the focus of Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint:

My allegation was that the University was applying a double standard when it came to anti-Jewish graffiti, and it was this double standard which caused Jewish students to feel discriminated against by University administrators.

Just one set of examples:


During March, 2011, Rossman-Benjamin noted that there had been several incidents of swastika-related graffiti at UCSC, one of which included the threatening message: “Blood will be shed @ UCSC on 4/20/11.”

In response to a newspaper article several days later about the swastikas, the Chancellor sent out an email describing the swastika graffiti, but he never referred to it as anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.  In contrast, there had been anti-African American graffiti the previous year.  To that, university officials sent out an email denouncing the graffiti as racist within hours of its discovery.  Rossman-Benjamin provided several such examples in her Complaint.


Because the OCR mischaracterized Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint as being about the impact of what she believes to be anti-Jewish events and incidents on the campuses, the Office of Civil Rights concluded that her allegations were based on “the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thought that a student might find personally offensive,” and were therefore barred by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

How many times could Rossman-Benjamin repeat, with strong emphasis, that it was not the events or incidents that she complained about, it was the university-sponsorship and promotion by university employees, faculty and administration that created the hostile environment for Jewish students at the California campuses.

It appears that thus far there is no limit to the number of times Rossman-Benjamin would have to direct the heads of the university and those in the Office of Civil Rights to focus on the actual words she used, and not on some red herring which those vested with responsibility for understanding the difference kept reeling in and displaying.

This is a news article and not a legal brief or a scholarly article for a law review about exactly the wrong way for professors, administrators and civil rights assessors should go about conducting an investigation. Therefore, the last piece of evidence to note is that although the OCR pointed to the First Amendment as the basis for rejecting a complaint about an atmosphere of discrimination that has resulted in fear by a minority group, the exact opposite was the response to contemporaneous claims of racial harassment of black students on another UC campus.


As Rossman-Benjamin pointed out in the appeal she filed from the dismissal of her complaint:

On March 11, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice invoked civil rights laws, including Titile VI of the Civil RIghts Act of 1964, to open an investigation of the University of California San Diego.  Specifically, according to media reports, students at the University of California San Diego (“UCD”) organized a social event off campus calling it a “Compton Cookout” and promised to expose guests to “life in the ghetto.”

In addition to the offensive promise of seeing “life in the ghetto,” a cardboard sign was found with the words “Compton Lynching,” and students on the schools radio stations were accused of using racial slurs on the air, and a student was alleged to have hung a noose in the campus library at UCSD.

All of the incidents were unquestionably offensive, but all were actions engaged in by students, and, as Rossman-Benjamin pointed out, are “classic cases of the ‘mere expression of views, words, symbols or thought'” which are protected under the First Amendment. But in that case, the Department of Justice, followed by the Office of Civil Rights just a few weeks later, began official investigations of potential Title VI violations.

That’s right.  The same office that tossed out Rossman-Benjamin’s claims which they mischaracterized as merely expressions by students that are protected by the First Amendment were claims instituted by the government when there was no allegation even of official university sponsorship or support.  The only difference, it appears, is that Rossman-Benjamin was complaining about anti-Jewish animus, while the government saddled up and rode off in immediate pursuit of students speaking offensively about African Americans.

It appears there is not only a problem with official sponsorship of anti-Semitism on California campuses.  The problem may also extend to the Office of Civil Rights.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com

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