Minnesota's second-largest university, St. Cloud State University, is embroiled in a bitter controversy over allegations by Jewish professors that some gentile faculty members and administrators have engaged in systematic anti-Semitism and have retaliated against those who have complained about discrimination.
At least four members or former members of the faculty have filed or are about to file anti-Semitism complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A joint committee of the state Senate will hold a hearing on the issue in June, the university has hired outside experts to study anti-Semitism on campus, and the Midwest branch of the Anti-Defamation League is looking into the allegations.
The complaints allege offensive behavior by non-Jewish professors toward Jewish colleagues, ranging from ignorance of or insensitivity to Jewish culture and history to blatantly anti-Semitic remarks. The administration is also accused of failing to discipline those guilty of anti-Semitism and of retaliating against professors who complain about bias by recommending their "non-retention," which is tantamount to dismissal.
St. Cloud State has 15 Jewish faculty members out of 750 and about a dozen Jewish students in an enrollment of more than 15,000.
Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said the numbers are small because of the university's reputation among Jews of fostering a hostile environment. "I don't know any Minnesota Jews who would send their kid there. It's like sending a black kid to Ku Klux Klan University," he said.
Some outside experts who are studying anti-Semitism at St. Cloud State say it is the scarcity of Jews at the university and in the city of St. Cloud -- whose population is largely descended from German Catholic immigrants -- that has contributed to insensitivity toward Jews. St. Cloud is 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis, in an area where anti-Semitism was virulent during the German American Bund movement of the 1920s and 1930s.
The university has a history of discrimination claims. Two class-action gender discrimination lawsuits have been settled by St. Cloud State. And at least a dozen members of the faculty and eight students are involved in various discrimination complaints against the school.
Tamrat Tademe, a black professor of multicultural education and a founder of the Faculty and Staff of Color Caucus, said: "On multiple levels, discrimination exists -- both anti-Semitism and racism -- and it's entrenched. In the 13 years I've been there, not one person has been disciplined for discrimination. Being a discriminator at St. Cloud State doesn't cost you anything."
The school's new Japanese American president, Roy H. Saigo, who took over in July, said he intends to be "very, very aggressive" about investigating complaints of anti-Semitism or racism and that he welcomes an open discussion of the subject "so that all parts of the university can feel comfortable and safe on this campus."
"Being incarcerated during World War II because of my race, I have very little tolerance for that kind of behavior," said Saigo, who as a child was detained with his parents in a World War II internment camp.
The university has been recruiting students and staff members of color. Currently, 18 percent of administrators, 14 percent of faculty members and 6 percent of students are nonwhite.
Some current and former St. Cloud professors say that prejudice is so deeply entrenched at the university -- which minorities have long referred to as "White Cloud State" -- that it may be difficult even for Saigo to stamp it out. Jewish faculty members and students said that swastikas occasionally appear on campus and that, last year, a 24-page supplement contending that the Holocaust was a hoax was inserted into the campus newspaper.
Saigo said the university has commissioned the Minnesota Jewish Community Relations Council to conduct a "climate study" on campus to gauge the extent of anti-Semitism and recommend changes. In January, he said, the university revised its standard nondiscrimination policy statement to specifically include anti-Semitism as prohibited behavior.
He also said the number of Holocaust courses taught each year has been increased from two in 1986 to 16 or 17 now and that the university's six-year-old Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education has stepped up its program of cultural education as part of an increased emphasis on diversity throughout the university.
St. Cloud Athletic Director Morris Kurtz, who is Jewish, said Saigo deserves a chance to rectify any wrongdoing. "Do we have challenges and problems at St. Cloud State University? You bet we do. But I believe that he is a man of his word, and he needs the opportunity to prove he's committed to diversity," Kurtz said.
But Laurinda Stryker, an assistant history professor, said she will file an EEOC complaint on Monday alleging that she is still being harassed because she supported two Jewish professors who filed anti-Semitism complaints. She said she is also being targeted because she aggressively sought to have Holocaust studies made a minor field of study in the curriculum.
Stryker, who is not Jewish but who said she plans to convert to Judaism, noted that officials are urging she not be retained on the faculty and are investigating her over what she called a bogus charge of academic fraud. She said that when she applied to be put on the tenure track two years ago, she told officials she had a scholarly article coming out in an academic journal. But, she said, she was unable to finish the piece because her mother became seriously ill.
"It's completely surreal. It's a kangaroo court," said Stryker, who has a doctorate from Cambridge University in Britain. She said the pressure on her intensified when she hired a lawyer and students began organizing petitions and rallies on her behalf.
Saigo and other university officials said that, under Minnesota law, they are unable to comment on Stryker's or any other faculty allegation.
But they said that St. Cloud State has received eight formal internal discrimination complaints in five years and that none has been proven.
Much of the current controversy stems from an EEOC complaint filed by Arie Zmora, 50, an Israeli American who taught history for two years before he was denied an interview for tenure and was forced to leave St. Cloud State in July after persistently complaining about anti-Semitism.
In his EEOC complaint, which is pending, Zmora said one history professor distributed a catalogue of neo-Nazi Holocaust-denial literature in the department and told him that he had to "fumigate" the office of a departing colleague, who was Jewish and homosexual.
Zmora said that when he prepared to give a talk on the Holocaust, another professor asked him: "Why do you need to talk about this? Aren't there other, nicer chapters in German history you can talk about?" He said the professor also told him that "the Waffen SS were wonderful soldiers who were not involved in the Holocaust."
Stephanie Digby, an assistant professor of biology who left St. Cloud in 1997 after five years, said she was bullied by administrators when she complained about anti-Semitism. "Life was so miserable I left," she said.
Geoffrey Tabakin, an education professor who filed an EEOC complaint, said that when he first complained to the school administration about anti-Semitism, he was told by an affirmative action officer that "Jews are not a protected class in Minnesota."
Stephen Silberfarb -- executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the group that Saigo commissioned to study anti-Semitism on campus -- said the controversy has been exacerbated by the administration's failure to investigate the problem aggressively in the past.
"This leads to a situation today where there is no credibility, even if there is an examination of their policies," Silberfarb said. "Not far under the surface, there is this acceptance of the fact that this is not a warm place for minorities to be."