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Barnard College cleared in bias case

(JTA) — Barnard College was cleared of charges that a professor discriminated against an Orthodox Jewish student by steering her away from a class.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on Jan. 11 notified Barnard that it had halted its investigation into a complaint that Professor Rachel McDermott, then the chair of the college’s Asian and Middle Eastern culture department, had discouraged a Barnard freshman in January 2011 from taking a class with Columbia Professor Joseph Massad, a critic of Israel who also has been accused of being anti-Semitic.

Barnard is affiliated with Columbia.

The Office of Civil Rights said it decided to halt the probe due to conflicting accounts of what occurred during the meeting between McDermott and the student, and because no other Jewish students have come forward to say that they also were steered away from the course.

“Because of the conflicting version of events and no other evidence to support the complainant’s allegation, OCR determined that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the complainant’s allegation that the Chair discriminated against the Student, on the basis of her national origin, by discouraging her from enrolling in the Course,” the letter said.

The complaint was filed by Kenneth Marcus, director of the Initiative on Anti-Semitism at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. Marcus told the Columbia Spectator student newspaper that he is looking into appealing the case. Marcus is a former head of the Office of Civil Rights.

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