Chalk writing at San Francisco State University, Feb. 23, 2018. (Photo/Courtesy SF Hillel)
Chalk writing at San Francisco State University, Feb. 23, 2018. (Photo/Courtesy SF Hillel)

Jewish students settle lawsuit against S.F. State University

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A discrimination lawsuit filed by two Jewish students against San Francisco State University and the California State University board of trustees was settled today shortly before the case was set to go to trial.

According to the press release from the Lawfare Project, which served as co-counsel to the plaintiffs, S.F. State agreed to several ameliorative steps as part of the settlement, including issuing a public statement that it understands that “for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity.”

The university will create a new position, coordinator of Jewish student life, as part of its Division of Equity & Community Inclusion, and allocate $200,000 to support “educational efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel and Zionist viewpoints).”

Moreover, the school will order independent investigations of all religious discrimination complaints, as well as conduct an external review of campus procedures related to enforcement of anti-discrimination policies and student code of conduct.

The settlement follows several years of litigation. The most recent suit, filed in California Superior Court in February 2018, focused on events surrounding the “Know Your Rights” fair, held on campus in 2017. San Francisco Hillel was blocked from participating in the event after initially being invited to participate. The lawsuit claimed this was an act of discrimination, and that the “decision to exclude Hillel from the event was made, and then sanctioned by high-ranking university officials.”

A university investigation later concurred that Hillel had been discriminated against. The suit cited “total lack of follow up from [SFSU President Les Wong] or other university officials” as evidence of systematic discrimination. The lawsuit also accused the CSU system and Chancellor Timothy White of inaction “while the campus climate for Jews in fact deteriorated.”

A separate but similar suit filed in U.S. District Court was formally dismissed in November 2018. Judge William Orrick said at a hearing last summer that the suit failed to show “deliberate indifference” on the part of SFSU or significant injury to the students.

The university issued a statement that read in part: “Today’s settlement… 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. The settlement contains items related to student programming; education and training efforts; review of policies and procedures; and opportunities for consultation with experts in the field on our efforts. It should be noted that many elements build on efforts already initiated by SF State toward improving campus climate. The settlement emphasizes the importance of improving student experiences and student lives. 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.”