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House Ways and Means Committee Advances Bills Targeting University Antisemitism; Democrats Warn of Potential Litigation and Consequences for Higher Education

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The latest actions taken by the House Ways and Means Committee moved two bills that seek to curb antisemitism on college campuses and ensure that colleges are held liable for the way they treat Jewish students.

Such measures will mean a huge financial penalty to those institutions found with cases of violating the civil rights of students and could also limit the number of international students admitted to the top U.S. universities. The Republicans explain that these steps will ensure that colleges treat taxpayer dollars fairly, but most Democratic members and higher education groups oppose the steps with an argument that they will protect all students from discrimination.

House Ways and Means Committee Advances Bills Targeting University Antisemitism; Democrats Warn of Potential Litigation and Consequences for Higher Education

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Lance Cheung)

University Accountability Act

Their first bill, which they referred to as the University Accountability Act, would have imposed financial penalties on universities for outcomes in civil judgments under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Institutions are required by law to reinforce the protection of their students from prejudicial discrimination based on common ancestry, currently including antisemitism and islamophobia, at institutions receiving any form of federal funding. Institutions liable would be fined $100,000 or 5% of the school's "aggregate administrative compensation," whichever is greater. A university could lose its tax-exempt status if it accrues three violations.

The bill comes amid escalating GOP activity on the issue of antisemitism on campuses, with controversial hearings as well as far-reaching investigations of college practices underway. Those who oppose the actions, however, say that they are unduly punitive and could unleash excessive litigation. Representative Brad Schneider, Democrat of Illinois, said the measure could unleash a flood of harassing claims against colleges, pushing them to settle vexing cases to avoid pricey litigation. The American Council on Education also came out against the bill. It argued that it would siphon resources away from meaningful compliance with Title VI and do little to safeguard students from bias.

READ MORE: Antisemitism And Islamophobia: Brown University Settles With Department Of Education's Office For Civil Rights On Title VI 

Protecting American Students Act

The second bill, the Protecting American Students Act, would hit those Universities with large endowments by enlarging the taxing on these endowments when international students and those of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status no longer count toward their head counts-a move that ratchets up the tax burden on those kinds of institutions since fewer students are being counted and more assets are accrued per student.

Republicans say the measure is one way further to fight antisemitism, alleging that, at times, international students play a role in campus unrest. Democrats like Rep. Judy Chu have panned that perspective as xenophobic and fear-mongering, likening the bill to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and former President Trump's Muslim travel ban.

"It's just a basic fairness question to have the definition of students in the tax code align with those eligible to receive federal financial aid," according to Representative Drew Ferguson, a co-sponsor of the bill. He said that while the bill wouldn't alone free the campuses of antisemitism, it would be an incremental change toward having more accountability. Opponents, including Steven Bloom of ACE, argue that this legislation doesn't do anything that it purports to do in making access easier and reducing price; it simply divests resources from the colleges.

Future Directions and Possible Consequences

The passage of these bills by the House is an important marker in the evolving debate on campus antisemitism and college accountability, with a future still quite murky at best. As the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to raise fierce resistance against these bills, the higher education groups join Democratic lawmakers who see these moves as allowing enough room to ensnare colleges in expensive and fruitless litigation that would take away valuable resources from more efficient anti-discrimination policies.

Moreover, the bills reflect broader political currents: for Republicans, the issue of combating campus antisemitism is but one small part of their larger strategy aimed at recapturing Congress and the White House. Democrats say the bills are part of a greater agenda focused on punishment rather than bringing real solutions to situations of discrimination and extremism.

Whereas accountability vis-à-vis college campuses in antisemitism and discrimination are serious issues, the proposed University Accountability Act and the Protecting American Students Act are highly debated. As similar bills move to the floor for a vote, the discussion just goes to prove the challenges posed to accountability, fairness, and protection of student rights at institutions of higher learning.

RELATED ARTICLE: Rise Of Jew-Hatred In America And Higher Ed: Disturbing Trend Dividing Americans 

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