U.S. Education Department to Probe Program for Black Men on 16 CUNY Campuses

February 04, 2008

The U.S. Department of Education has opened investigations at 16 campuses of the City University of New York to determine whether a program to improve the enrollment and graduation rates of black men violates federal civil-rights law.

In April 2006, the New York Civil Rights Coalition filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights about CUNY’s proposed “Black Male Initiative,” which the civil-rights group charged would offer “remedial and differential treatment” to students based on race and gender. The group argued that such a segregated pedagogy violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The Office for Civil Rights received that complaint in May 2006, followed by a second complaint from the same group, in June 2006, charging discrimination in the hiring of staff members for the program.

“In order to investigate the allegation in the most thorough and appropriate manner, OCR determined it would open individual complaints against each of the 16 colleges,” said Jim Bradshaw, a Department of Education spokesman.

In 2006 a CUNY spokesman told The Chronicle that the system was not planning any race-exclusive programs, but that it was considering the promotion of gender-focused programs to help black men. The program under attack was part of a four-year master plan called the “Initiative on the Black Male in Education,” approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees in 2004.

“We will, of course, continue to fully cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights,” Jay Hershenson, a CUNY spokesman, said today. “CUNY is confident that [the program] will be recognized for its great work in fostering access and success to the benefits of education, including to those who are underrepresented in higher education.”

According to the civil-rights group, the CUNY institutions that are under investigation are the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Baruch College, Brooklyn College, City College, Lehman College, College of Staten Island, Medgar Evers College, Hostos Community College, Hunter College, Queens College, Queensborough Community College, York College, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, and the New York City College of Technology. —JJ Hermes