Journalist Mark Oppenheimer wrote an opinion article in the New York Times, describing the long history of antiSemitism at elite colleges. Stanford University apologized for its limited enrollment of Jews in the 1950. The apology came at a time when anti-Semitism is surging on college campuses and in society.

But restricting the number of Jews admitted to Ivy League campuses is nothing new. The top Ivy League colleges introduced strict quotas in the 1920s, fearful of being overwhelmed by Jewish students.

To anyone who understands the history of Jewish exclusion on elite campuses, the central findings of a recently released, long-awaited report from Stanford University were no shock. The report confirmed that Stanford admissions officers purposefully limited the enrollment of Jewish students in the 1950s, in part by greatly reducing the number of applicants admitted from heavily Jewish public high schools.

What’s surprising is that these discriminatory measures were, comparatively, so mild and so late to come about. Elite Northeastern schools perfected Jewish exclusion decades before Stanford got in on the act.

In the 1920s, Columbia and Harvard began seeking students from the South and West as a means of limiting the number of students from more Jewish school systems in the Northeast — the very idea of “geographical diversity” was invented to keep out Jews. From 1928 through 1938, Columbia operated Seth Low Junior College, a two-year school in Brooklyn to which Jews were relegated to keep the student body of its Manhattan campus more Protestant. And Yale decided, in 1922, to restrict Jewish enrollment, which it did until the 1960s.

Given that history, and the increase in antisemitism today in the United States, the most noteworthy aspect of the Stanford report is its long list of proposed steps for atonement, or teshuvah, to use the Hebrew word invoked by its authors. The recommendations show noble intentions, but they also reveal the limitations of official university action in fighting what may be the world’s most enduring prejudice.

How universities balance the ethnic compositions of their student bodies is an urgent question right now, as the Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments on two cases challenging affirmative action, at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. In several months, when it rules on the legality of their admissions practices, the court may forbid the use of race or ethnicity as considerations. If so, partisans on both sides will argue about what such a change means for “diversity,” especially the imperative to admit historically underrepresented people of color, like Black and Hispanic Americans.

These fights are nothing new. As the plaintiffs note in their brief on the Harvard case, in 1922 Harvard began to suss out which applicants were Jewish, in part by asking questions like, “What change, if any, has been made since birth in your own name or that of your father? (Explain fully.)” Indeed, as scholars like Jerome Karabel and Robert McCaughey haveshown, the modern college application process, from the form to the interview, were developed to weed out Jews.

Stanford adopted some of this playbook midway through the last century, so its reckoning is welcome. Some of its report’s recommended steps for atonement are symbolic, like issuing an official apology (which Stanford just did). Other steps are more concrete, like better accommodating students who need kosher food or don’t use technology on the Sabbath, and thus can’t use electronic key cards on Saturday. The report recommends paying better attention to the Jewish calendar, so the start of school does not conflict with Jewish holidays — as it did this year, when first-quarter classes started on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year….

Jewish students today are faced with a growing antisemitism that is rooted in widespread ignorance. In September, the Wellesley student newspaper published an editorial that relied on the blatantly antisemitic Mapping Project, a crude website that implies that institutions in Massachusetts including Emerson, Tufts and Harvard, a Boston-area Jewish high school, and even a public school system (Newton) are part of a web of conspiratorial Zionism. (The newspaper later said it did not “endorse” the Mapping Project.) Other institutions, like Northwestern, near Chicago, have seen incidents of swastika graffiti on their campuses.

And this year, students at a Jewish fraternity at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo told me that fellow students regularly shouted anti-Jewish slurs at them when they walked by the fraternity house. The Cal Poly students told me the hate speech is so common that they don’t even bother to report it.

College campuses are merely reflections of the national mood. The Anti-Defamation Leaguesays there was a 167 percent increase in antisemitic assaults from 2020 to 2021. But given that context, what might address the problem at schools?

Leadership, for one thing — like the kind modeled by Wellesley’s president, Paula Johnson, who condemned the Mapping Project as promoting antisemitism. A renewed focus on the humanities is another part of the solution. As students rush to major in subjects deemed useful — fields like economics and computer science — they are leaving history and philosophy in the dust.

As a college lecturer, most recently for 15 years at Yale, I have been surprised by the gaps in students’ historical knowledge. I’ve had students who thought that President John F. Kennedy had email and that American slavery ended in the 20th century. Some students didn’t realize Holocaust survivors still walk the earth, and many knew nothing of other genocides, from Rwanda to Cambodia.

Paradoxically, ignorance is flourishing at a time when many students seem more interested than ever in history. They are dismayed that their dormitories and classroom buildings are named after slaveholders, and they know that there is something problematic about Christopher Columbus, even if they can’t always say what. These students are ill served by curriculums that have downgraded the study of history, literature and philosophy.

Narrow-mindedness hurts us all, not only Jews. But encouraging and empowering students to discuss the history of Jews — to know anything about Jews — is the one indispensable way for schools to atone for their antisemitic past. I suspect that more Stanford students have learned about antisemitism from their school’s mea culpa than from classes they’ve taken there.

I am a graduate of Wellesley College, and I was very proud when the College’s President Paula Johnson called out the student newspaper for supporting The Mapping Project, an attempt to name and shame Jews who did not follow the newspaper’s politically correct views. Dr. Johnson did not interfere with the publication, but she said forcefully that there’s no room on campus for bigotry.