The United States Department of Education opened investigations into Penn and six other schools over alleged instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia, the first such inquiries since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.
The investigations — first reported by CNN — were launched under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects against discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. The DOE is investigating five instances of antisemitism and two Islamophobia cases across the seven schools, according to a press release.
A University spokesperson confirmed that Penn received a letter from the DOE informing them of the investigation and said that the University looked forward to cooperating fully.
"The University is taking clear and comprehensive action to prevent, address, and respond to antisemitism, with an action plan anchored in the National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism," the spokesperson wrote. "President Magill has made clear antisemitism is vile and pernicious and has no place at Penn; the University will continue to vigilantly combat antisemitism and all forms of hate.”
The DOE is also investigating Cornell University, Columbia University, Lafayette College, Wellesley College, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and the Maize Unified School District — a K-12 district located in Kansas.
The investigations were spurred by complaints reported to the DOE, which on Nov. 7 expressed concern about rising incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses.
The investigation into Penn is related to complaints over alleged instances of antisemitism. It comes a week after the Brandeis Center, a Jewish legal rights advocacy group, filed a federal complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the DOE, alleging that Penn failed to respond to the harassment of Jewish students.
The Brandeis Center's discrimination complaint alleges that Penn violated Title VI by nurturing a hostile environment against Jewish students and failing to protect them from harassment, representing a violation of the statute. The Center also filed a similar complaint against Wellesley College.
In a statement, Brandeis Center founder and chairman Kenneth Marcus praised “the swift responses" to the Center's complaints for sending "an important signal to university leaders" about antisemitism on college campuses.
"We’re encouraged to see the investigations into UPenn and Wellesley move forward and we thank Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon and her team at OCR for their prompt attention to this matter," Marcus wrote.
The DOE will issue recommendations to schools after concluding its investigations. If the schools do not adhere to these recommendations, they risk losing federal financing, an official told CNN.
"Hate has no place in our schools, period. When students are targeted because they are — or are perceived to be — Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn,” Cardona said in a statement.
Penn has seen multiple instances of antisemitism and acts of hate on campus this fall. In September, a swastika was discovered in Meyerson Hall of the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, and an individual vandalized Penn Hillel while shouting antisemitic obscenities.
After the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, a vacant Campus Apartments property next to the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house was vandalized with the message "The Jews R Nazis," prompting the Division of Public Safety to investigate the incident.
Jewish groups on campus and nationwide have also been criticizing Penn for allowing the Palestine Writes Literature Festival to proceed on campus despite allegations of antisemitic remarks made by some speakers.
In November, Penn reported that it had notified the FBI after staff members received antisemitic threats targeting Jewish community members and naming Penn Hillel and Lauder College House. Days later, Penn condemned projections of messages onto campus buildings as antisemitic and "vile," issuing a separate statement pledging to investigate all acts of hate and hold those responsible accountable. A Penn student was arrested on Nov. 4 after allegedly stealing an Israeli flag from the front of a Campus Apartments property near campus.
The incidents, coupled with Penn's response to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival and the war between Israel and Hamas, have fueled uproar from prominent University donors, many of whom have pledged to halt their funding entirely. These donors include Jon Huntsman Jr., Ronald Lauder, and Stephen Levin, as well as dozens of class presidents and building and scholarship namesakes.
Multiple Penn professors have reported receiving violent threats after participating in pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus. These professors told the DP that they did not receive any messages from higher-level administrators after reporting the threats.
Penn, like college campuses nationwide, has been subject to widespread scrutiny and attention as it has taken measures to respond to reported acts of hate. On Nov. 1, Penn announced a campuswide plan to tackle antisemitism, including increased security at religious buildings and the creation of several committees and commissions intended to address antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate — as well as the doxxing of some students.