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Brooklyn College

Concerned about rising anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses, The Jewish Press has launched an investigation into how this disturbing trend is playing out on local college campuses, specifically in the City University of New York (CUNY) system.

Increasingly, reports have emerged of intimidation and discrimination directed not only at Jewish students, but also at Jewish professors by their fellow faculty members. The media has so far not invested much energy in covering these reports.

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Seeking to shine a light on the matter, The Jewish Press filed a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request last April with Brooklyn College and Kingsborough Community College requesting records of all complaints made by students and faculty or other employees about anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism on their campuses in the past five years, as well as of requests for religious accommodations submitted during that period.

The request sought information about complaints filed internally or with governmental anti-discrimination authorities, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the New York State Division of Human Rights, and the New York City Human Rights Commission.

CUNY is not giving up this information without a fight, though. Citing privacy laws, specifically Section 87(2)(b) of the New York State Public Officers Law and the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects student information, CUNY denied the paper’s FOIL request. CUNY also claimed that “unsubstantiated” complaints, including those pertaining to open investigations, need not be disclosed under FOIL.

The Jewish Press appealed that denial with CUNY’s Office of Legal Affairs, which in turn denied all but one portion of the appeal; the institution then proceeded to provide redacted copies of some employee complaints filed internally.

As a result, The Jewish Press has now filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court challenging CUNY’s denial of the FOIL request. It is the paper’s position that the law does not bar the colleges from turning over redacted versions of the records sought, with names and other personal information withheld, and that, contrary to CUNY’s claims, the FOIL exemption for release of information relating to matters under ongoing investigation applies only where the investigation is being conducted by a court or law enforcement agency.

In this case, however, The Jewish Press has learned that the ongoing investigation – pursuant to which CUNY is refusing to release any records, allegations, or interim findings – is a private one being carried out by a top-tier law firm hired by Kingsborough to probe internal complaints of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism made by and against its own professors.

CUNY’s court filings reveal that in May 2019, Kingsborough engaged national labor-and-employment law firm Jackson Lewis to probe internal complaints of discrimination and whether any of its employees had violated CUNY policies or federal, state, or local laws.

The probe, launched specifically in response to allegations of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist behavior on the school’s campus, is ongoing. Its findings could have far-reaching consequences – not only for the employees involved, but for how colleges, in Brooklyn and elsewhere, handle metastatic encroachments on the rights and freedoms of their Jewish students and faculty.

A hearing for the Brooklyn College case is set for December 16 before Judge Peter Paul Sweeney of the Kinds County Supreme Court.

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Ziona Greenwald is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a J.D. from Fordham Law School and has worked as a court attorney and a magazine editor. A former New Yorker, she now lives with her family in Jerusalem.