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May 18, 2023 1:44 pm

University of Vermont Faculty Demand Apology from President for Handling of Antisemitism Allegations


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The Williams Science Hall at the University of Vermont Photo. Kaya/Flickr.

Over 170 University of Vermont faculty members have signed a letter calling on the university’s president, Suresh Garimella, to apologize for initially denying allegations of antisemitism that prompted a federal investigation by the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

OCR began investigating the university in Oct. 2021 after receiving a civil rights complaint alleging that the university declined to act when Jewish students were harassed by a teaching assistant for embracing Zionism, along with other incidents of anti-Jewish harassment and discrimination.

At the time, Garimella called the allegations “false claims” and accused media outlets that reported on them of spreading disinformation. In April, OCR ruled that UVM had indeed ignored numerous complaints of antisemitism and anti-Zionist harassment and discrimination — marking the first time that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act has been applied to anti-Zionist discrimination.

The faculty letter, issued at the end of April, argues that Garimella’s denials eroded his standing in the community.

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“We have serious concerns about your leadership and trustworthiness,” the letter said. “Your actions and your administration’s handling of the events surrounding the OCR investigation fall short of our common ground values: respect, openness, responsibility, integrity, and justice.”

The professors added that Garimella should “apologize to the students who suffered from the administration’s handling of the OCR investigation,” as well as commission a report on the harassment Jewish students experienced, explaining that “these types of actions will demonstrate the administration’s dedicated to diversity and inclusion.”

Garimella’s comments about the antisemitism allegations set off a torrent of criticism from Jewish nonprofit groups, with 21 charging in an open letter issued in Sept. 2022 that he elected to “blame the victims” over “acknowledging the problem of offering support for Jewish students.”

After OCR’s ruling in April, University of Vermont told The Algemeiner in a statement said that it will “use all tools at its disposal to eliminate the hostile behavior and enable each member of the community to learn and work in an environment unfettered by discrimination and harassment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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