San Francisco State University has agreed to hire a consultant to review how it enforces anti-discrimination policies and assign all religious discrimination complaints to an independent investigator for a period of two years.
The concessions are part of a settlement reached Wednesday in a lawsuit accusing the university of fostering anti-Semitism on campus.
SF State will also hire a “Coordinator Of Jewish Life,” allocate $200,000 to support education outreach efforts across campus to promote “viewpoint diversity,” equity and inclusion of religious identity, and install a mural designed by students of differing viewpoints who were subject to the litigation.
The university will also issue a statement acknowledging Zionism as “an important part” of the identity of “many Jews.”
A federal lawsuit filed in June 2017 by a group of former and current SF State students and Jewish community members claimed that the university failed to protect their right to attend on-campus events, including a speech by the mayor of Jerusalem in 2016 that was shut down by protesters. It alleged that current policies contributed to civil rights violations against Jewish students.
The lawsuit, brought by the international law firm Winston & Strawn LLP and the Lawfare Project, was dismissed by a federal judge last October for failling to show sufficient evidence of systemic discrimination That decision was appealed by the law firm and is pending briefing, according to Lawrence Hill, a partner at Winston.
On January 20, 2018, the students’ lawyers filed a lawsuit in state court that was triggered by the denial of equal participation to a “Know Your Rights” Fair held on campus in 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that their Jewish group was intentionally excluded from hosting a table and providing resources to Jewish students concerned with anti-semitism, accoridng to a spokesperson for the law firm.
The lawsuit, Volk v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, was scheduled to go to trial this month, according to Hill.
Hill called SF State’s concessions a “landmark settlement.”
“These changes will benefit students of all faiths– this is designed to require the university to engage in training and education of their student body in terms of tolerance and respect for diverse groups of people and diverse religions,” he said. “It is a change of their policies and procedures in handling discrimination complaints and it imposes requirements that an independent monitor can be approached if there are discrimination complaints filed.”
A statement issued by SF State on Thursday said that “campus climate has been and remains a top priority for the campus, as evidenced by our significant new investments over the past several years and ongoing commitment to training, outreach and education.”
“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. We are pleased that we reached common ground on steps for moving forward,” said the university in the statement, adding that the settlement builds on “efforts already initiated by SF State toward improving campus climate.”
Winston’s lead trial attorney Ross Kramer said that the statement issued by SF state acknowledging Zionism as an important part of the identity of many Jews is “groundbreaking.”
“I’ve never seen a statement like this from a university — going forward, that means if Jewish students are excluded from events, they cannot use the excuse that it was not based on religious discrimination but on political views,” said Kramer.