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Minneapolis, Minn. — Former St. Cloud State history professor Arie Zmora and other faculty members sued the university and MnSCU a year ago, alleging they were subject to a hostile work environment on a regular basis.
The Israeli-born Zmora says he was harassed because he is Jewish.
At a press conference to announce the agreement, Zmora described one exchange with another faculty member.
"When I gave a talk about the Holocaust in the year 2000, in February, I was approached by an ex-chair of the department who told me I shouldn't talk about the Holocaust, I should pick other topics, and the SS were wonderful people who didn't take part in the Holocaust."
While the university did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement, officials have agreed to make some substantial changes, and payouts to the plaintiffs.
Zmora is to receive $165,000, two other faculty members will receive a portion of $100,000, and about 28 more unnamed faculty will share $50,000.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Judy Schermer says also under the agreement, St. Cloud State is to create a Jewish Studies and Resources Center on campus at a cost of about $125,000 a year, re-evaluate its affirmative action office and procedures, and change its process for handling discrimination complaints.
"Other changes include a mandatory diversity training that will include anti-Semitism, not be limited to it," Schermer said. "And one of the things that we have always sought in this lawsuit is not to get preferential treatment for Jewish faculty members, but to get equal treatment."
Zmora calls the deal a moral victory. He says the lawsuit was never really about money, but about creating a lasting environment of tolerance at St. Cloud State.
"For me there is a vindication. That everything that I've said and people before me have said, have finally come and found to be true. The issue now -- what next?" he said.
The settlement calls for a federal judge to monitor and enforce the agreement for one year.
St. Cloud State President Roy Saigo says the university settled because the litigation was taking too much time and energy away from the university staff and resources. He says he deeply regrets any acts of anti-Semitism that have occurred on the university campus or in the community. He says the university and MnSCU system oppose any form of discrimination.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people I meet are very positive and they are disgusted with the kinds of things that have been going on, and they want to make this better," Saigo said. "And I want to send a message to the public, that you come to St. Cloud State and we'll take care of your student, and he or she will get a fantastic education."
Saigo put a positive spin on the settlement requirements. He says the university is ready to take on what he sees as positive changes for the school.
"We have courses, we have training, we have programs that allow students to understand better what people go through," Saigo said. "And after 9/11, and those kinds of issues, it's even more important today. So we're looking at this from different points of view, just not from one course, or one example. Many... multi-layered, multi-fabric, multi-textured."
A federal court must review and approve the settlement. The court's final decision on the agreement is expected in early February.