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U.S. probing bias allegation at Columbia

JTA

October 5, 2011 | 12:09 pm

Barnard College, New York City. Photo by Billy Hathorn

Barnard College, New York City. Photo by Billy Hathorn

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Columbia University for allegedly discriminating against a Jewish student.

The probe by the department’s Office for Civil Rights concerns an Orthodox student at the Columbia-affiliated Barnard College who was “steered” by an academic adviser away from a course taught by Professor Joseph Massad because she would be made uncomfortable, according to the complaintant, Kenneth Marcus, the director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish Civil Rights. Marcus served as the head of the Office for Civil Rights in 2003-04.

Massad, a sharp critic of Israel, was cleared of accusations of anti-Semitism by a Columbia committee some years ago.

“Steering” is a legal term typically used in housing discrimination cases, such as when a black family might be steered away from a white neighborhood.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger said in a statement that the university has strong policies against discrimination and treats such allegations “very seriously.” He also noted that the complaint appears to relate to academic advising and it was unfair to cite Massad because he played no part in the matter.

In 2004, Marcus instructed the Office for Civil Rights to be vigilant about campus anti-Semitism.

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