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Columbia Deans Placed on Leave Over Messages Sent During Antisemitism Panel

 June 22, 2024

Three deans at Columbia University have been placed on leave after their disparaging text messages during an antisemitism panel were exposed by an alumnus.

The deans mocked the panel's subject matter and participants during a discussion on the impact of rising antisemitism, fueled by Israel's war against Hamas, on Columbia's Jewish community.

Josef Sorett, Susan Chang-Kim, and Matthew Patashnick were identified as the deans involved in the incident. The panel discussion, held on May 31, aimed to address the rising antisemitism and its repercussions on Jewish students and faculty at Columbia.

Antisemitism Panel Held Amid Rising Tensions

The panel featured speakers David Schizer, Brian Cohen, Ian Rottenberg, and Rebecca Massel, who discussed the growing antisemitism on campus. Evidence of the deans' inappropriate messages was captured by an alumnus attending the event, who later revealed the content.

During the two-hour discussion, the deans sent messages that mocked and dismissed the subject matter. Cristen Kromm, another involved dean, used queasy and vomiting emojis while referring to an October 2023 op-ed by Yonah Hain in the Spectator. Kromm sarcastically commented on Hain’s warning as a Jewish alumna recounted her daughter's hostile experiences.

Disparaging Messages Mock Panel Participants

In one message, Patashnick accused an unidentified panel member of exploiting the situation for fundraising, to which Chang-Kim responded with “Double Urgh.” The messages surfaced due to the diligence of an observant alumnus, raising concerns about the conduct of university officials.

Sorett issued an apology via email to the Board of Visitors, expressing regret for the harm caused. He also condemned the capture and release of the messages, calling it an invasion of privacy by an unknown third party.

Columbia University's Response and Commitment

Columbia University responded firmly, underscoring its dedication to combating antisemitism and ensuring the safety and well-being of its students.

A spokesperson for the university reaffirmed their commitment, stating, “We are committed to combatting antisemitism and taking sustained, concrete action to ensure Columbia is a campus where Jewish students and everyone in our community feels safe, valued, and able to thrive.”

Background of the Incident

The context surrounding the panel discussion is essential to understanding the gravity of the deans' actions. Following Israel's retaliatory actions in the wake of Oct. 7, Columbia's Morningside Heights campus has been the site of significant anti-Israel protests.

One key incident occurred in late April when pro-Hamas rioters occupied Hamilton Hall, vandalized property, and called for an “intifada.”

Alumni and Students Affected by Antisemitism

The panel discussion aimed to address these tensions and their impact on the university’s Jewish community. The mockery by university officials during such a critical discussion has only intensified the concerns of Jewish students and alumni.

Kromm’s messages regarding Yonah Hain's op-ed highlight the dismissive attitude that has hurt many within the community. The op-ed itself warned about the growing hostility Jewish students were facing, a warning that seemed validated by the experiences shared during the panel.

Institutional Measures and Actions

Columbia University's administration has taken steps to address the situation following the exposure of the messages. The decision to place Sorett, Chang-Kim, and Patashnick on leave is part of the university’s broader effort to uphold its values and commitments.

The situation at Columbia reflects a broader issue of rising antisemitism on college campuses across the United States. The university's handling of this incident will likely be closely watched by other institutions facing similar challenges.

Looking Forward

The fallout from this incident emphasizes the necessity for university officials to approach sensitive topics with the utmost respect and professionalism.

The inappropriate behavior exhibited by the deans during the antisemitism panel has sparked a wider conversation about accountability and ethics in academic leadership.

Conclusion

In summary, three Columbia University deans have been placed on leave after sending disparaging texts during a panel on antisemitism.

The texts were exposed by an alumnus, leading to apologies and a renewed commitment from the university to combat antisemitism.

The incident has highlighted tensions on campus following recent protests and underscores the importance of addressing rising antisemitism within academic institutions.