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CUNY commits to backing hate crimes reporting bill, despite initial skepticism

'CUNY is committed to and has policies in place to address incidents of discrimination, hate and violence in all its forms,' a spokesperson for CUNY said in a statement to Jewish Insider

Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2023/02/21: Front entrance to Baruch College in Manhattan.

The City University of New York, which has faced scrutiny for its handling of a recent surge in alleged antisemitic incidents, confirmed its support for new state legislation that would require colleges to post campus hate crime statistics on their websites, even as representatives of the public university system had previously expressed skepticism of the bill.

“CUNY is committed to and has policies in place to address incidents of discrimination, hate and violence in all its forms,” a spokesperson for CUNY said in a recent statement to Jewish Insider. “This legislation is in keeping with that commitment, and if signed into law as expected we look forward to incorporating it into our existing policies.”

Before it passed the state Assembly late last month, a legislative representative for CUNY had weighed in with a different assessment of the bill, which stemmed directly from concerns that the university system was not adequately confronting antisemitism on its own.

“We have not taken a position,” the CUNY representative wrote in late February, emphasizing that the university system “takes any hate crime very seriously that may take place on” its 25 campuses across the city, according to correspondence reviewed by JI. “In essence,” the representative added, “we feel like we are already implementing actions to address hate crime on campus without the directive of legislation.”

The representative reiterated that sentiment in correspondence from early March, noting “the actions that CUNY has recently implemented to address hate crime including antisemitism.”

Those efforts have included a recent partnership with Hillel International, a Jewish campus organization; new funding to address “religious, racial and ethnic bigotry” at CUNY; and an online portal, launched in January, for students and staff to report incidents of hate speech and violence.

The countermeasures were instituted amid mounting allegations from elected officials and Jewish groups that CUNY had neglected to address rising antisemitism reported on its campuses. Last summer, for instance, CUNY’s chancellor, Félix Matos Rodriguez, withdrew from testifying before a City Council hearing focused on alleged instances of widespread anti-Jewish prejudice within the university system, including swastikas carved onto school property and other acts of harassment.

Critics have also accused CUNY leadership of ignoring an uptick in anti-Israel activity on campus, which has made Jewish students and faculty members feel unwelcome at the largest urban public university system in the country.

Even as CUNY has taken steps in response, the administration has continued to face criticism from Jewish leaders who believe its efforts have failed to address root causes of antisemitism.

Meanwhile, Daniel Rosenthal, the state assemblyman from Queens who authored the new bill, has said he decided to move forward with legislation after meeting last summer with Jewish students at CUNY who expressed concern that the administration “was not taking the issue seriously.” 

He declined to comment on CUNY’s response to his bill.

In addition to requiring that colleges update their websites with relevant hate crimes data, the legislation would compel all higher education institutions that receive state funding to implement plans to investigate such incidents and to inform incoming students of existing prevention measures.

A similar bill was also passed in the state Senate. When the two bills are reconciled with some minor amendments, the legislation is expected to head to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk.

The bill has also received backing from the State University of New York and the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

“New York’s independent colleges and universities value student diversity and campus safety and maintain a high level of transparency in hate crime reporting,” Lola W. Brabham, CICU’s New York president, said in a recent statement to JI. The legislation, she said, “will allow for greater efficiency in reporting and ensure that New York’s hate crime reporting requirements mirror existing federal standards.”

In a memo dated April 18 and shared with JI last week, SUNY’s office of government relations said it “strongly supports the passage and enactment of” Rosenthal’s bill.

While the memo noted that SUNY currently adheres to “a systemwide anti-discrimination policy, based on federal requirements,” the public university system also stressed that the new legislation “would ensure colleges across the state are unified in preventing and responding to incidents of hate crimes.”

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