Professor, former regent allege faculty post on U of M website is ‘antisemitic’

A large gathering of people on campus.
Protestors at a walk-out event on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus working in collaboration with the Shut It Down For Palestine organization.
Kyre Johnson | MPR News

A University of Minnesota law professor and a former regent have asked the U.S. Department of Education to investigate their concerns about alleged antisemitism after faculty posted an opinion statement on an official university website.

“We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and with Palestinian scholars and organizers,” reads the statement from the College of Liberal Arts’ Gender, Women and Sexuality Department tenured faculty. “At a time when so many institutions are renewing a commitment to Israel’s right to “self defense,” we assert that Israel’s response is not self-defense but the continuation of a genocidal war against Gaza and against Palestinian freedom, self-determination, and life…

“In the past decades, all forms of Palestinian resistance and solidarity with Palestine have been further criminalized or violently repressed.”

Professor and former Bush Administration White House ethics attorney Richard Painter and former regent Michael Hsu claim the CLA violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

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“This is not about being pro-Palestinian,” Painter told MPR News. “This is about official statements of departments on websites paid for by the Minnesota taxpayers that justify the actions of Hamas.”

In their letter to the Department of Education, Painter and Hsu claim “CLA has allowed departments to post antisemitic faculty statements condemning Israel, and justifying the terrorist attacks by Hamas.”

As of Tuesday, there’s no word on whether the Department of Education has opened an investigation into the allegations of antisemitism. However, the department does say there’s been an increase in reports of antisemitism, Islamophobic and anti-Muslim incidents since the war between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7.

Three college presidents have faced calls to resign after testifying about antisemitism at a congressional hearing.

University of Minnesota Interim President Jeff Ettinger has promised listening sessions with staff, students and alumni. Painter says the immediate solution is instead to take down the websites and for university employees to keep their personal views on personal feeds.

University spokesperson Jake Ricker said in an email the U is “aware of the letter shared with the Department of Education. The letter’s broad characterizations of the University are inaccurate and are fundamentally contrary to our mission and values. We look forward to hearing from the Office of Civil Rights, and to responding appropriately.”

Ricker added that “acts of harassment, intimidation or bias are entirely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We have and will respond promptly and fully to any reports of this behavior on campus. In addition, the University is providing resources to anyone in our community who needs support right now.”

In an email to MPR News, the associate professor and chair of the Department of Gender Women and Sexuality Studies Aren Aizura declined to comment.

To the university’s criticism of inaccurate characterizations, Painter encouraged individuals to read the statement in question themselves and make up their own minds.

Painter believes Ettinger has made headway in other problems at the U of M, like campus safety.

“I have a lot of confidence in the president that he's listening,” he said. “I think the university will do the right thing.”