Advocate for Jewish Civil Rights Is Tapped to Lead Key Education Dept. Office

The Trump Administration announced on Thursday its intention to nominate Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, to be the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The announcement follows months of vacancies in key positions across the Trump administration, including in the department.

Courtesy of Baruch College
Kenneth L. Marcus, founder of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has been named assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Mr. Marcus, who is also a visiting professor of equality and justice at Baruch College of the City University of New York, previously served as acting assistant secretary for civil rights under President George W. Bush. Since leaving the department, Mr. Marcus has been an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism on campuses. He previously served as director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, in San Francisco.

Over the past year, more white supremacistshave been recruiting on college campuses — often with postings that include racist caricatures of Jewish, black, and Hispanic students. And in August, supporters of white dominance marched with torches at the University of Virginia chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

“The fact is that very, very few incidents of anti-Semitism in American higher education are exclusively religious,” Mr. Marcus said in a 2010 interview with The Chronicle. “They almost always have some ethnic or ancestral component to them.”

The Education Department at the time signaled that it would ramp up its efforts to protect Jewish students under Title VI, the federal law preventing colleges from discriminating against students based on national origin or ethnicity. Mr. Marcus said then that he hoped the department would assume the position that criticisms of Israel should be considered anti-Semitic if they are based on anti-Jewish stereotypes. The European Union’s advisory agency on human rights and freedoms has already adopted that definition.

“The key question,” Mr. Marcus said, “is whether OCR will take its own policy seriously and enforce Title VI except in those rare instances where someone faces purely theological bias.”

In 2013, Mr. Marcus criticized the Education Department’s role in issuing the so-called Montana Agreement, which he argued was an overreach because it could violate individuals’ First Amendment rights in compelling universities to police sexual harassment. Read more about that agreement.

In the first nine months of the Trump administration, the Office for Civil Rights has placed a heavy focus on Title IX and sexual assault on campuses. Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights, has led the department during that time, amid calls for her removal by Senate Democrats. If Mr. Marcus is confirmed, Ms. Jackson will continue to serve in the department as the deputy assistant secretary for strategic operations and outreach.