In a victory for the University of California – Berkeley, the Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Education has dismissed a complaint filed by two attorneys alleging that the university created an environment hostile to Jewish students via its support for anti-Israel demonstration and protests. The dismissal follows the failure of a lawsuit filed by the same attorneys against the school on behalf of Jewish Berkeley students.
The complaint was filed in July 2012, and OCR launched an investigation that included reviewing documentation provided by the university, personal inspection of the protests, and interviews with students on whose behalf the complaint was lodged as well as others who took part in the protests. In the end, the OCR concluded that the protesters were exercising their freedom of expression and that Berkeley didn’t have a legal obligation to curtail or restrict them.
OCR’s finding is consistent with the Dec. 21, 2011, ruling of U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg in a case filed by two Jewish UC Berkeley students. Judge Seeborg held that the same demonstrations were constitutionally protected speech, and that university administrators had “engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the opposing parties in an attempt to ensure that the rights of all persons are respected, and to minimize the potential for violence and unsafe conditions.” In July 2011 the plaintiffs agreed to drop their suit, but their attorneys immediately filed a complaint with OCR reasserting the lawsuit’s allegations.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks welcomed OCR’s decision, saying in a statement said that he was glad that the OCR concluded that the complaint was unfounded. He added that the Berkeley campus supports a large and “vibrant” Jewish community and that the school would continue to lay down and follow policies that protest free speech rights of its students.
In recent years the university has taken significant and effective steps to ensure that interactions between student groups with opposing points of view remain civil and free of confrontation. The Berkeley campus has set up student and administration teams whose sole purpose is to monitor the campus environment, develop ideas that will help promote civility and respond quickly if participants engage in conduct that is not constitutionally protected and threatens to violate the rights of others. The university has also provided funding to student groups from a variety of perspectives who are interested in promoting a safe and respectful campus climate, including a group of Muslim and Jewish students who came forward with an innovative idea to promote dialogue and coexistence. The university has also established a website that allows any member of the community to anonymously report incidents, actions and speech that they believe violates the law, the university’s principles of community and/or the code of student conduct.