MnSCU, Minnesota and others settle anti-Semitism suit

St. Cloud State agreed to create the Jewish Studies and Resources Center as part of the settlement.

Monica LaBelle

History professor Arie Zmora said he encountered anti-Semitism at St. Cloud State University shortly after he was hired there in fall 1998.

Four years later, he and other plaintiffs claimed one victory over anti-Semitism in a class-action suit against the state of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, among others.

“When I came to (St. Cloud State), a faculty member introduced himself by his name and said, ‘My father is an anti-Semite, and the apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree,’ ” Zmora said, adding that he soon found a larger culture of anti-Semitism on the university’s campus.

Zmora, an Israeli-born European historian, said that once he encountered the anti-Semitism he decided to teach a course in Jewish history his second year.

He gave a lecture on his mother’s survival of the Holocaust, after which he was told by the then-chair of the department that he would no longer be a candidate for tenure.

As a result of the settlement, St. Cloud State agreed to create a new Jewish Studies and Resources Center, implement mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff, make several changes in the university’s procedures to handle discrimination complaints and create a new process for promotion disputes.

The dean of Zmora’s department could not be reached for comment.

Zmora will be paid $165,000 as another result of the settlement. Fifty-thousand dollars was allotted for the class settlement fund in addition to money awarded to other plaintiffs.

“It’s a moral victory,” Zmora said about the settlement. “What we have said for many months and years has become validated. And for the first time, Jews who were silenced, abused and chased out of the University have a voice in this settlement.”

“If this kind of behavior is either ignored or implicitly endorsed, it sends a terrible message,” Zmora said. “(St. Cloud) produces the largest amount of teachers for the public school system in Minnesota.

“If the students are not shown a different way to be sensitive and tolerant, how are they going to behave as adult citizens?”

Judy Schermer, a Minneapolis lawyer representing Zmora and other plaintiffs, said she hopes the settlement “brings about some real change at St. Cloud State.

“I think it’s the first class-action lawsuit against a public university where the basis was anti-Semitism,” she said.

“We attempted to sit down and talk to the university, and they wouldn’t even sit down and talk to us,” Schermer said about the climate in spring 2000, before the lawsuit was initiated. “It’s unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to get their attention.”

The lawsuit was filed in October 2001.

Zmora taught a class on global history in the summer session at the University and he will teach a class on the Italian renaissance this spring.

Zmora said he hasn’t encountered anti-Semitic sentiment here.

Monica LaBelle welcomes comments at [email protected]