Is fear over antisemitism the latest blow to America’s confidence in higher ed?

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, the Department of Education now has 12 open investigations on colleges and universities for alleged Title VI shared ancestry violations.

Public regard for higher education can be difficult to measure. Despite national polls revealing confidence in the sector has plummeted, employers still value candidates who possess a four-year degree.

However, three university leaders were the subject of scorn last week at a Congressional hearing over how they’re handling antisemitism. While UPenn President Lizz Magill’s resignation is the most significant headline to enrapture those skeptical of higher education, other sources seem to be fanning the fire.

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Federal investigation into university antisemitism widen

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, the Department of Education now has 12 open investigations on colleges and universities for alleged Title VI shared ancestry violations. It added six more this week, probing incidents of antisemitism, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab discrimination.

The colleges include Stanford University; the University of California, Los Angeles; Rutgers University; University of Washington; the University of California, San Diego; and Whitman College. It had previously opened investigations into six schools in November, including Cornell University (N.Y.), Columbia University (N.Y.) and Wellesley College (Mass.).

Colleges are willingly complying with the investigation and publicly decrying any such incidents of discrimination.  However, there has been severe criticism of colleges and universities’ ability to protect their students.

“There’s been a lot of talk about rooting out anti-Semitism on campuses, and it’s time to hold these colleges accountable,” said Kenneth Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center, a Jewish and human rights advocacy group that filed civil rights complaints with the Department last month, according to CNN.

U.S. public’s confidence in university leaders ebbing in the short-term

Advocacy groups, lawmakers, and wealthy donors aren’t the only groups unconvinced by college and university leaders’ ability to protect their students in today’s climate.

A survey conducted by U.S. News & World Report and The Harris Poll found 58% of Americans believe that university leaders are failing students today. Over half (53%) of current Gen Z and Millennials believe the same thing.

The Harris Poll conducted the interview from Dec. 8 through Dec. 10 and garnered responses from 2,031 U.S. adults.

On the upside, more than half trusted leaders of public, private and Ivy League institutions to prioritize their students. This may suggest that the public’s overall confidence detached from the current zeitgeist is more positive than it currently seems.

Are colleges’ good deeds going unnoticed?

While Pamela Nadella, director of American University’s Jewish Studies Program and fourth witness at last week’s Congressional hearing, denounced college antisemitism and its deep roots in higher education, she also pointed out how actionable steps federal agents and college campuses to root it out have gone unnoticed.

She mentioned a joint letter written by two University of California, Berkeley professors ideologically opposed on the Israel-Hamas war calling for more community harmony amid its tense campus.

Additionally, she mentioned Dartmouth University’s series of public forums on the conflict co-sponsored by its integrated Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies programs. One of them attracted over 1,300 people via livestream and in person. One Jewish student who attended the forums said he wears his Star of David necklace on campus without fear, NBC News reports.

“It’s those kinds of actions that we need to be applauding, elevating and uplifting,” Nadell said at the hearing. “They just don’t tend to make headlines.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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