Feds give pass to Stanford, Harvard Med for racial discrimination favoring blacks

Department of Education's referral of Harvard Med complaint to EEOC, which doesn't appear to have jurisdiction, could be "a strategy to derail a valid complaint," professor says.

Published: March 31, 2023 11:12pm

Much like Stanford Law School's refusal to sanction or even identify students who knowingly and repeatedly violated its policies against disruption of guest speakers, the federal government shrugged in response to Stanford taking no action against a student government that violated the university's funding conditions.

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights resolved a complaint filed against the university last fall by a former Trump administration education official, Adam Kissel, for racial discrimination by its Graduate Student Council, a branch of Associated Students of Stanford University.

The GSC, funded by a mandatory student activities fee, reserved 100 movie tickets to "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and bus rides to an off-campus theater for black students. All races were then eligible for remaining movie tickets and bus seats on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Kissel, now chairman of West Virginia's charter school board, shared the Thursday response he received from OCR with Just the News.

"OCR determined that while events planned by student groups are typically approved by staff, the Graduate Student Council student leadership organized this event and the lottery system [for distributing tickets to black students] without obtaining staff approval," OCR San Francisco Chief Attorney Anamaria Loya wrote to Kissel.

Stanford's investigation confirmed "the event was not consistent with the University's non-discrimination policy," and it conveyed that finding to the GSC, which "affirmed that they will not plan a similar event in the future," Loya said.

Because her office has "credible information indicating that the allegation has been resolved, and there is no systemic allegation," OCR will close the complaint, she wrote. 

That suggests the Biden administration, at least on paper, has not changed its predecessor's reversal of the Obama administration's practice of opening wide-ranging education civil rights investigations to find evidence of systemic violations.

Loya's letter makes explicit that Stanford is subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination by recipients of federal funding, but doesn't explain how documented racial discrimination by a student government under the university's control does not violate Title VI. 

"This is a win against discrimination," Kissel told Just the News. "If OCR had thought there were facially no violation in the first place, it would not have opened an investigation."  

Stanford is still under investigation for other claims he has brought about its "pervasive" discrimination, Kissel said, sharing the December response letter he received from Loya: "Its institutional discrimination teaches students to be discriminatory and intolerant in turn."

OCR passed the buck in response to a more recent racial discrimination complaint against Harvard Medical School for creating a "Black Staff Caucus" that excludes nonblack staff.

Filed by Do No Harm, which advocates against "antiracist" ideology in medicine, the complaint notes that Harvard Med promoted the three-year-old racial affinity group in a January Q&A that touted BSC's awards from Harvard's diversity-focused Culture Lab Innovation Fund and President's Administrative Innovation Fund.

OCR Boston rejected the complaint on the grounds that it doesn't allege an applicable Title VI violation, instead referring the matter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in Boston as employment discrimination under Title VII. Do No Harm redacted the official's name.

The rationale is puzzling because "OCR agreed to evaluate eight different Title VI complaints against universities sponsoring segregated race-based affinity groups for faculty, and it opened three of those complaints for federal investigations" in just the past year, Do No Harm senior fellow Mark Perry said.

One of those three was against Harvard's public health school, where BSC has a presence, "for race-based affinity group sessions for students and employees," according to Perry, an emeritus economist at the University of Michigan who says he has filed 800 federal civil right complaints. The school agreed to discontinue those sessions to resolve the complaint.

EEOC generally requires potential complainants to have "legal standing" — in this case, a Harvard employee who alleges personal discrimination — suggesting OCR's referral could be "a strategy to derail a valid complaint," Perry said. Do No Harm crowed a week earlier that OCR had recently opened four investigations based on its Title IX and Title VI complaints.

Even though Stanford didn't concede the GSC event violated Title VI, just its own policy, the resolution of Kissel's complaint is "a solid win" and "the best that can be expected" under the circumstances, Perry told Just the News. 

Promising not to let such an event happen again rather than challenging Kissel's allegations "is to me equivalent to an admission of guilt by Stanford that it violated Title VI," Perry wrote in an email. Federal financial assistance "is never really in jeopardy" for most violations, and even an apology is unlikely "because there is no plaintiff with legal standing."

The bigger problem is "race-based discrimination and sex-based discrimination are so widespread and systemic in higher education that new discriminatory programs, events, scholarships, quotas ... are being introduced all the time," meaning few realize they are illegal or even consider getting "legal clearance" from campus authorities, he said.

The case also shows "OCR never proactively monitors" schools to enforce popular violations of Title VI and Title IX, according to Perry.

The Department of Education declined to comment, while OCR San Francisco and Boston didn't respond to queries.

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