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Education Secretary Calls Antisemitism on Campuses ‘Abhorrent’ and ‘Unacceptable’

Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona said on Tuesday that the threats against Jewish students reported at Columbia and other colleges were “abhorrent” and that his department would continue to pursue more than 130 investigations into complaints of harassment.

Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee about the Education Department’s budget requests, Mr. Cardona ran into pointed questions about campus protests over the war in Gaza.

“Hate has no place on our campuses, and I’m very concerned with the reports of antisemitism,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Jewish students who have feared going to class as a result of some of the harassment that they’re facing on campuses.”

“It’s unacceptable,” he added.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Education Department is responsible for enforcing a prohibition against discrimination based on “race, color or national origin” at any institution that receives federal assistance. Mr. Cardona stressed on Tuesday that the department’s Office for Civil Rights was investigating the complaints it had received.

But some Republicans on the subcommittee complained that the pace of the investigations, which require extensive interviews and can take months to resolve, was inappropriately slow and encouraged Mr. Cardona to take punitive actions.

“I mean, that’s good; I’m glad you’re doing that,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the subcommittee’s top Republican. “But you have more immediate means at your disposal, for instance removing federal funds.”

Mr. Cardona replied, “Ultimately, if a school refuses to comply with Title VI, yes, we would remove federal dollars.”

The department does not comment on open Title VI investigations, and the 137 investigations that Mr. Cardona cited on Tuesday almost certainly include a mix of complaints about antisemitism and anti-Arab or anti-Muslim harassment at various institutions.

But as campus protests have erupted across the country in recent days, it has fallen predominately to college administrators to enforce campus codes, hand down punishments and make difficult decisions about how to balance students’ freedoms of expression and assembly with campus safety considerations.

And while Republicans in Congress have repeatedly sought to highlight antisemitic threats, demanding answers from the presidents of Columbia, Harvard and other schools as well as top administration officials, the Education Department has repeatedly warned of heated rhetoric turning into violence or discrimination against students of all backgrounds, including Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students.

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