The city must stop CUNY Law using taxpayer funds to target Jewish students

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The time has come for New York City to take a closer look at the City University of New York School of Law and ask itself whether the institution is meeting its mission for all New Yorkers.

CUNY Law is the only one of the metro area’s 13 law schools subsidized by New York City taxpayer dollars. With in-state tuition just $15,450 per year, the school’s mission is to provide an affordable legal education to the city’s diverse student population — many of whom are planning careers in the public interest.

It has more than met that mission with respect to certain ethnic groups but failed entirely with respect to others. Specifically, it has fostered a culture that has isolated and excluded many Jewish and Israeli students — deterring them from even applying.

Palestinians protest against Israelis at the Israel Parade 2022.
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In the past year alone, CUNY Law’s Student Government Association passed a resolution to ban Hillel and other Jewish institutions from campus. The faculty council voted in favor of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel — despite a state order forbidding this very conduct. And the school recently selected a student keynote speaker for graduation who, in her own words, seeks to “globalize the Intifada.”

If CUNY Law were a private law school, perhaps it would be within its discretion to take such a strong anti-Israel stance. But as the city’s only public law school, CUNY Law must be open to all New Yorkers. The chosen commencement speaker must speak to everybody. And events targeted to the entire student body, such as the school’s graduation ceremony, must be made pleasant for members of all ethnic groups.

I write this not to take a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, no doubt, is complicated by longstanding territorial struggles that emerge out of British colonialism, but rather as a CUNY professor deeply troubled by CUNY Law’s willingness to foster a hostile environment to nearly an entire ethnic group — any entire ethnic group.

CUNY Law should be open to all New Yorkers.
CUNY Law should be open to all New Yorkers.
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As a Baruch College law professor, I regularly advise my students on applying to law school. As much as CUNY Law’s tuition price presents students with a great opportunity, I cannot in good faith encourage anyone to apply to a school where one ethnic group is targeted for isolation and exclusion. It harkens back to ugly days of an earlier era when private law schools around the country placed quotas on Jewish student admission.

Without immediate intervention, there is little reason to believe CUNY Law will change any time soon. Faculty self-governance provides schools with broad discretion when hiring new faculty. Thus, much as there has been historic exclusion of black, female and other minority faculty members at many law schools throughout the nation, there is a dearth of young faculty at CUNY Law supportive of Israel. One can only imagine this is a conscious decision by current faculty who oppose Israel’s very existence. 

The path forward for legal education, of course, is not to exclude individuals of diverse ethnicities or viewpoints but to preach inclusion and tolerance. While CUNY Law student groups are more than within their right to invite speakers to campus who support the BDS movement, pro-Israel groups must similarly be given a forum to invite speakers who share the Zionist perspective. A public institution that places content-based restrictions on political speech presumably runs afoul of protections granted by the US Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments.

As the only law school funded with New York City taxpayer dollars, moreover, CUNY Law has an ethical duty to build an environment that makes Jewish and Israeli students, like all other students, feel welcome on campus. Similarly, it has a legal duty to comply with New York state Executive Order 157, which prevents “all agencies and departments over which the Governor has executive authority” from engaging in the boycott of Israel.

Hence CUNY Law fails to meet its mission both as a law school and a New York City taxpayer-funded institution. As such, the city needs to step in and correct the school’s leadership shortcomings — ensuring that the rights and well-being of all students, including Jewish and pro-Israel students, are adequately protected. 

Marc Edelman is a professor of law at CUNY’s Baruch College Zicklin School of Business. He holds advanced degrees in law and higher-education administration. This piece represents solely the views of the author and not any institution.

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