SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – To settle claims of anti-Jewish bias, San Francisco State University on Wednesday committed to a sweeping set of changes including the creation of an on-campus mural that will feature Zionist views and a major investment in “viewpoint diversity.”
The settlement will resolve separate state and federal lawsuits, filed in 2017 and 2018, claiming school administrators stirred anti-Jewish sentiment on campus, favored anti-Israel student groups and failed to discipline those who excluded Jewish student groups from activities and disrupted pro-Israel events.
“The settlement emphasizes the importance of improving student experiences and student lives,” San Francisco State University spokeswoman Mary Kenny said by email. “It allows SF State to reiterate its commitment to equity and inclusion for all – including those who are Jewish – and reaffirms the values of free expression and diversity of viewpoints that are so critical on a university campus.”
To comply with terms of the deal, the university will issue a public statement affirming that it “understands that, for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity.”
The university will also hire a Jewish Student Life coordinator, invest $200,000 in viewpoint diversity outreach and install a mural on campus to feature differing views about the Israel-Palestine conflict, including the views of “Jewish, pro-Israel and/or Zionist student groups.” Additionally, the university agreed to let an independent investigator handle all complaints of religious discrimination for the next two years.
“This is a landmark civil rights victory, not only for the rights of Jewish and Israeli students, but of people of all religious faiths,” said Lawrence Hill, partner at the international firm Winston and Strawn, which provided pro bono legal representation for the student plaintiffs, in a statement.
The federal lawsuit, originally filed in June 2017 by lead plaintiff Jacob Mandel, was on appeal after U.S. District Judge William Orrick dismissed the case with prejudice in October 2018.
In their complaint, the plaintiffs cited two incidents in which administrators allegedly refused to stop protesters from shutting down a speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in April 2016 and enabled the exclusion of a Jewish student group from a “Know Your Rights” Fair in February 2017. Orrick found the plaintiffs failed to show that school administrators acted with specific intent to suppress pro-Israel speech or exclude Jewish student groups from on-campus events.
The settlement also resolves a separate lawsuit filed in January 2017 by lead plaintiff Charles Volk in San Francisco County Superior Court alleging a pattern of anti-Jewish discrimination at SF State.
“Today’s settlement in the Volk v CSU case brings an end to what has been a very emotional and challenging issue for all parties involved,” Kenny said. “We are pleased that we reached common ground on steps for moving forward.”