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March 23, 2016 1:59 pm

Lawsuit Against CUNY Alleges Pervasive, Explicit Antisemitism Among Kingsborough College Administrators

avatar by Andrew Pessin

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Kingsborough Community College. Photo: Google Images

Kingsborough Community College. Photo: Google Images.

A lawsuit filed last month by a faculty member at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Kingsborough Community College alleges explicit antisemitic discrimination and harassment by senior administrators, The Algemeiner has learned.

According to the complaint, filed by Professor of Business Jeffrey Lax and obtained by The Algemeiner, senior administrators actively limited the hiring and obstructed the promotion of Jews, and have “promoted and maintained a pervasively hostile work environment.” This hostility, the complaint continues, includes mocking religious head coverings worn by Jewish faculty members, referring to Jews as “the Devil” and “evil” and denigrating people for keeping kosher.

Named in the complaint as a CUNY co-defendant is Stuart Suss, former vice president for academic affairs and provost at Kingsborough. According to the complaint, Suss subjected Lax, an orthodox Jew, to “constant discrimination based on his religion,” including “comments, innuendos and verbal harassment,” such as “voicing support for suicide bombers and their attacks against Jews,” “referring to Jews as ‘horrible’” and his “constantly reminding people that he knows that they are Jewish.”

The complaint also outlines “extraordinary measures” that senior administrators took to prevent Lax from obtaining promotions, including prohibiting some members of the relevant committee from voting in support of him, and appointing a non-departmental chairperson to the committee for the purpose of voting against him.

When Lax appealed an initial negative decision on a promotion, according to the complaint, Suss refused to present the appeal to the relevant committee, in violation of Kingsborough’s procedures. When Lax was subject to “an unfounded complaint of discrimination” against him, CUNY not only allegedly violated several procedures in the way it handled his case, but Suss “encouraged [Lax’s] accuser to manufacture a false statement about a comment that he had made to her.”

High-level officials at Kingsborough were “aware of the pervasively hostile work environment,” according to the complaint, but allowed it to continue. One administrator, after being informed of the discriminatory practices, allegedly stated, “I know.”

After Lax registered separate complaints with Kingsborough’s General Counsel and the Interim Provost, the suit further alleges, he was subject to retaliation in which “discrimination and harassment only intensified”: He was paid less than similarly situated non-Jewish coworkers; he was excluded from college-level service; top-level administrators were encouraged not to speak to him; and he was not considered for promotions that were awarded to less qualified and less experienced non-Jewish individuals.

Lax is represented by the law firm of Corey Stark PLLC and the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit legal think tank that, according to its website, aims to counter “the abuse of the law as a weapon of war against Western democracy.” According to its director, Brooke Goldstein, in a statement obtained by The Algemeiner:

We have been hearing about horrific incidents at CUNY — where Jewish professors and students have been targeted in the most vicious ways — for too long. Up until now, faculty and students victimized by antisemitic conduct have had no place to turn for legal representation, including financial assistance. The Lawfare Project is committed to fighting religious discrimination on US campuses and ensuring that all members of the academic community are equipped to enforce their rights.

Kenneth Marcus, president of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, commented in the same statement, “… I hear from so many Jewish students, professors and staff members who tell heartbreaking stories of recent anti-Jewish discrimination [at CUNY]. I deeply hope that CUNY’s leadership will act boldly to address these incidents as well as hate and bias directed against any other group.”

Last week, the New York State Senate passed a non-binding resolution to slash CUNY’s budget by $485 million, partly due to the Senate’s dissatisfaction with CUNY’s response to earlier allegations of antisemitic activity across its campuses, as reported by The Algemeiner. Last month, as also reported by The Algemeiner, the pro-Israel advocacy group the Zionist Organization of America sent a 14-page letter to CUNY documenting antisemitic incidents at four of its 23 campuses, attributing them and what it considered a pervasive anti-Jewish atmosphere to local chapters of the national group, Students for Justice in Palestine .

The President of Kingsborough Community College, Farley Herzek, responded to The Algemeiner’s request for comment, stating:

Based on my knowledge of the review of this claim, it is baseless and entirely without merit. Discrimination and acts of bigotry of any kind are in complete violation of the values we stand for at Kingsborough Community College.

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  • Bob Kahn

    This is very sad and at the same time very strange. The individual promoting anti semitism at the College, Provost Stuart Suss, is Jewish. According to the plaintiff, he was making what anyone would consider to be extremely anti semitic statements. Also, what is the composition of the student body at the school that so many horrible anti semtic acts are being committed there. This is shameful and I would like to know more about what is going on there.

  • Mark Herzog

    Funny how Prof. doesn’t sign his name, yet claims no Jew bias at KCC. As someone who has an acquaintance who is an Orthodox Jew and who applied a number of times to KCC and Brooklyn College for positions in the Science Dept., with a Phd. and he was published. Was told by a number of KCC faculty, that KCC and Brooklyn College were no longer “hiring” Jews and it was widely known around the colleges.Guess Prof. doesn’t want to address that? But then again signing Prof. says all we need to know-doesn’t it? Now that is a Shonda.

  • Prof

    I am a Jewish Prof. at KCC, and this article is a one-sided smear job from start to finish. This is a completely inaccurate portrayal of both the institution and a very respected educator, told only from the side of the plaintiff. The college has always been and remains respectful of Jews and their observances, and these accusations paint a false and misleading picture of a fine institution.

    Also, the fact that the defendant is himself Jewish seems to be missing from the complaint and the article. This is a shonda, and it is a shame that Mr. Pessin’s half-researched piece is spreading misinformation and classic lashon hara.

    • William K

      The discriminatory practices at Kingsborough are not restricted to anti-Semitism. Kingsborough has a culture of discriminating against Black and Hispanics students, faculty and staff. Since President Herzek has taken over, the culture of discrimination has reached an all time high.

      I have been informed that Black/Hispanic faculty and staff within the English and Criminal Justice Department have been retained an attorney to file a discrimination suit against Kingsborough and the chairs of the two department.

      President Herzek and his administration have received numerous complaints regarding discriminatory actions against Black and Hispanic faculty and staff. But has refused to meet with any of the victims or address the problems.

  • Celia Weinberger

    Quite a few years ago in an Art class at Kingsborough, Prof. Kanter began

    saying that he wished Jesus Christ would come down to earth again. I took immediate

    offense. I walked up to him after class and said that this is America. I said there is a

    separation of Church and State here. He was French, and I later learned that he was the

    son of Holocaust survivors. I complained to the President in writing. He never said it

    again when i was in class. I however heard that he did it with other classes.

    I tried to ask him why. He would not say. He said that if I studied religion as much

    as he had then I could speak to him about it.

  • art frank

    Sounds like good christians doing their thing; which they’ve been doing since the fifth century. And where is the aclu???? Guess they only defend murderers and other savages.

  • Richard Greenstein

    As someone who graduated KCC in 2007, I am reminded of an English teacher I had who was one of the most anti-semitic people i had ever met. He constantly brought up Israel and his hatred for it-even though it had nothing to do with the topic. I of course dropped the class, reported it to the Dean of students-they said that he could teach and say anything he wanted in class. I had forgotten until I read this article how horrible it made me feel and how isolated I felt at kings borough.

  • nathan cheiman

    That will teach ém

  • Sam

    Where are all the Jewish communal organizations who should be defending Jewish rights and protecting us from discrimination?

    Seems these functionaries are too busy fund raising and padding their salaries; too weak and unconcerned to take an activist stand.

    You know who I mean – the ADL, AJC, Council of Presidents, etc. High time that the community calls them out on the carpet.

  • Pearl

    I saddens me to say that once upon a time, long, long ago kingsborough was a fantastic school for EVERYONE! That we have come to this period where Jews are discriminated against in CUNY, and Kingsborough shows that America, AND New York are no longer safe havens for Jews. Is this the beginning of nazi Germany all over again. In only 70 years we hav forgotten history and so are repeating it.i
    It’s OK to harass Jews. It’s OK to denigrate them. BUT it’s NOT OK to vilify those who perpetrate this. It all comes from Jew hating Muslims who are lauded and encouraged to continue this hateful behavior and the frightened administration doesn’t say anything to curb this hatred since they like the money “donated” by these low life’s.
    I’m ashamed of everyone at Kingsborough’s administration.
    I went to this school when classes were held in barracks. It was a welcoming warm place that upheld the importance of the individual AND its faculty. There was respect, kindness and an open exchange of dialogue.
    All of CUNY, including Kingsborough took a wrong turn. They no longer listen to the voice of reason!

  • Francis Figliola

    Time to let heads roll! Sounds like CUNY has its “Nazi” going!

  • Esther Kaplan

    The issue of antisemitism on American college campuses is one that has preoccupied my attention for quite some time as my grandchildren approach the age of leaving home and stepping into the wider-world atmosphere of colleges and universities. How do these anti-Jew, anti-Israel policies persist? I use the word “policies” with design as the ugliness reaches the highest levels of administration at well-known and powerful institutions. From what mysterious fount of misinformation and ill will does this behavior come? Did these administrators learn nothing in kindergarten?

  • Myron Slater

    It is a reprehensible series of anti-Semitism acts by the administration of CUMNY that cannot be aloud to pass without financial consequences. The State of NY should withhold all financial aid!

  • tiki

    Letting the Anti Semitic BDS groups roam the universities and “Paris & Brussels” is only a question of time!

  • Carol

    Let us hope that the law firm of Corey Stark PLLC and the Lawfare Project do such an excellent job of tearing this horrible antisemitism wide open and punishing its culprits into smithereens that others who would consider following the same antisemitic misdeeds crawl back into their caves and never entertain the thought again.

  • Zg

    Dejavu. Is that the 30’s in Nazi Germany we are witnessing all over again, in the USA?

  • Morris Wortman, MD

    I am ashamed of my alma mater, Brooklyn College ( class of ’72). This was a one-time proud institution of learning–now it is a wasteland of progressive academic necrosis. How far how this college and university fallen.

  • Lia

    Perhaps the financial loss will spark some heart-searching, but perhaps a solid Arab donation will silence it?

  • Ephraim

    In the most Jewish city outside of Israel, isn’t it nice to know that Nazis reign? The unrelenting hatred of the BDS movement and other blatant antisemitic genocidal organizations pollute campuses around this country (and, of course, in Europe). Isn’t there anyway to bring back the JDL? Someone has got to stop the Nazis from triumphing in total.

  • I am so glad to hear that this nefarious Jew-baiting will be handled through legal processi. About time! How patient must Jews be while being victimized in their own schools? You know, it may start with the Jews, but it never ends with them.

  • Rita Crespi

    I find this absolutely appalling! My daughter got her associates degree there and got a scholarship to Adelphi College where she graduated Suma Cum Laude. I spent one semester there. I grew up near that school. It was a wonderful place to go to. How dare they ruin everything that school has stood for all these years! Shame on them. Those teachers or professors should be terminated immediately.