Will Congress Follow Through?

People rally on the campus of Columbia University which is occupied by pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters in New York on April 22, 2024. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)
People rally on the campus of Columbia University which is occupied by pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters in New York on April 22, 2024. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

Today, I joined AEPi’s International President, Scott Knapp, in writing a letter to Congress with a clear and urgent message: the time for action is now. 

Our message to the Committee on Education and the Workforce is a plea for decisive action in the face of escalating threats to the safety and equality of Jewish students, particularly at Columbia University. 

Chairwoman Fox’s recent missive to Columbia University, dated April 21, 2024, articulates a troubling reality. Many campuses across the nation are failing to ensure safe and equitable environments for Jewish students, in clear violation of Title VI. We commend her acknowledgment of this critical issue; however mere words and warnings are insufficient when confronted with systemic disregard for the law. 

The Committee’s letter, while robust in its documentation of Columbia’s transgressions, falls short in providing concrete measures to enforce compliance. It is disheartening to note the absence of objective benchmarks to compel adherence to Title VI, and the lack of substantive punitive actions against institutions found in violation. How many instances of discrimination and disregard for Jewish students’ safety must be cataloged before necessary action is taken? 

Inaction is no longer an option.  

Congress must send a clear message that discrimination and violence against Jewish students will not be tolerated on college campuses. 

Moreover, it’s essential to recognize that the issue extends beyond mere rhetoric; it’s a matter of fundamental rights and safety. Recent extensions granted to unlawful protesters, under the guise of free speech concerns, are disingenuous. Those of us that are not new to the world of higher education know that universities, including Columbia, regularly and lawfully regulate student conduct and activities including limiting speech. Their failure to do so when Jewish students are the target simply highlights the urgent need for action from our government. The safety and well-being of Jewish students should not be sacrificed at the altar of vague notions of academic freedom. 

I am compelled to pose a stark question. Must we wait for a tragedy, the loss of a Jewish student’s life, before the Department of Education acts decisively? The hesitance displayed in withholding funding from institutions like Columbia University, despite glaring violations, is unacceptable and gives license for other institutions to disregard Title VI as a policy without enforcement. 

The time to act is now, to send an unequivocal message that all students have the right to pursue education without fear of discrimination or violence. 

About the Author
Rob Derdiger is the CEO of Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity (AEPi). AEPi is the world’s Jewish college fraternity, operating chapters on more than 150 college campuses in four countries. Founded in 1913, AEPi has more than 110,000 living alumni. The fraternity’s mission – developing the future leaders of the Jewish communities – is demonstrated every day through acts of brotherhood, Tzedakah, social awareness and support for Jewish communities and Israel.
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