UNC reaches resolution agreement with Department of Education following controversial Gaza conference

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
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UNC reaches agreement with Dept. of Ed after Gaza conference

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is announcing a series of measures to protect students from a "hostile environment" and to crack down on anti-Semitism.

The announcement includes a series of measures laid out in Resolution Agreement, written in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education and signed on October 14. It's the latest chapter in the saga surrounding a controversial conference on Gaza hosted by the UNC-Duke Consortium for Middle East Studies.

It also comes amidst new details about the conference and subsequent anti-Semitic incidents at UNC described in new letter from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, including flyers and anti-Semitic books promoting Nazis were found in the library.

"The University agrees to continue to take all steps reasonably designed to ensure that students enrolled in the University are not subjected to a hostile environment and to respond to allegations of anti-Semitic harassment," the agreement states. "The University will continue to promptly investigate all incidents of anti-Semitic harassment involving students that are reported to the University and will continue to take appropriate action to respond to such complaints, which may include disciplinary action against students and/or staff."

The four-page document includes a commitment from Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz to publicly state that UNC "does not tolerate acts of prohibited harassment, including but not limited to anti-Semitic harassment."

Guskiewicz's statement, which must be delivered by Dec. 31, also has to include language that encourages students, faculty or staff to report such incidents.

Rep. George Holding (R-North Carolina) first called for the investigation in April after the Consortium used federal funds to host the "Conflict Over Gaza" in March at UNC-Chapel Hill, and it was an event sponsored by more than two dozen university departments, plus the Rotary Club of Raleigh and other local organizations.

Many of those sponsors demanded their money back after video emerged showing a song with anti-Semitic language was performed by a Palestinian rapper.

"I hope we can all agree that it is irresponsible and immoral for taxpayer dollars to fund overtly biased advocacy under the guise of constructive academic discourse," Holding said in June.

The Department of Education threatened future Title VI grants to UNC in a letter on Aug. 29 unless UNC took action.

After that letter was sent, some academic freedom advocates argued the government could be setting a dangerous precedent if it injects politics into funding decisions. Some said they had never heard of the Education Department asserting control over such minute details of a program's offerings.

"Is the government now going to judge funding programs based on the opinions of instructors or the approach of each course?" said Henry Reichman, chairman of a committee on academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors. "The odor of right wing political correctness that comes through this definitely could have a chilling effect."

Jay Smith, a history professor at UNC and vice president of its chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the letter amounted to "ideologically driven harassment." He said the Education Department official who signed the letter, Robert King, "should stay in his lane and allow the experts to determine what constitutes a 'full understanding' of the Middle East."

But Holding said it's clear the consortium stepped outside the bounds of the grant. The Education Department has an obligation to ensure its funding is used as intended, he said, adding that other schools should make sure they're following the rules.

UNC's Resolution Agreement, signed on October 14, also commits the University to do the following:

  • Update written policies to include more references to anti-Semitism and "provide a clear definition of anti-Semitism that can manifest in the University environment."
  • New training and orientation offered by the University for the next three academic years. The programs must include components on "prohibited harassment, including anti-Semitic harassment." All the relevant programming is subject to review and approval from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
  • UNC must host at least one meeting "providing students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to discuss" with UNC administrators "any concerns they have about incidents of prohibited harassment."