Education

President pushes back on allegations of antisemitism at University of Vermont

Suresh Garimella
UVM President Suresh Garimella rebutted claims that the university failed to address antisemitic behavior on the university’s Burlington campus. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Suresh Garimella, president of the University of Vermont, forcefully denied claims Thursday that administrators failed to address allegations of antisemitism following revelations that federal officials had launched an investigation into the university. 

Garimella’s strong response came one day after news outlets, including VTDigger, reported that the federal Department of Education had opened an investigation into the university’s administration’s response to reports of antisemitic incidents on campus.

In his statement, sent to UVM community members and the media, Garimella pushed back on the allegations while saying that news reports on the investigation have “painted our community in a patently false light.” 

“The uninformed narrative published this week has been harmful to UVM,” Garimella said. “Equally importantly, it is harmful to our Jewish students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

Two Jewish advocacy groups, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Jewish On Campus, filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in October 2021. The federal investigation was opened in August, according to the department’s website. 

The nonprofit groups alleged that UVM’s administration failed to properly address a series of incidents, including offensive rhetoric by a teaching assistant, vandalism of the Hillel building and the refusal of campus organizations to admit pro-Israel students. 

Jewish students “have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation, harassment and discrimination targeting them on the basis of their Jewish ethnic identity,” the organizations wrote, citing local news articles, social media posts, and photos of alleged vandalism. 

In his email, Garimella rebutted three allegations outlined in the complaint. 

After learning about a teaching assistant who had allegedly made prior antisemitic comments on social media, administrators “took prompt action to ensure that the objectionable statements did not adversely impact students in the classroom and further, to perform a thorough review to ensure all grades were awarded on a non-discriminatory basis.”

Garimella’s statement did not provide specific details about what action was taken. University of Vermont spokesperson Enrique Corredera declined to respond to emailed questions. 

Vandalism to the university’s Hillel building was, in fact, the work of students throwing small rocks “to get the attention of a friend who was convalescing in the building while recovering from an illness,” Garimella wrote, challenging the characterization of the episode as “an incident of hate and bias.”

Two student organizations that allegedly barred pro-Israel students were effectively outside the administration’s purview, Garimella said. The groups “received no university support and were not bound by UVM’s policies governing student organizations,” he wrote.

“We will continue to learn and support UVM’s Jewish community to ensure that any future incidents that might occur will be addressed with immediacy and sensitivity to what they are experiencing,” Garimella said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education confirmed that an investigation was underway but declined to comment further.

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Peter D'Auria

About Peter

Peter D’Auria covers education for VTDigger. Prior to moving to Vermont, he worked for The Jersey Journal, The Chilkat Valley News and Willamette Week. He is originally from Portland, Oregon.

Email: [email protected]

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