Columbia University removes three deans following antisemitism investigation

The deans sent messages which ‘touched on ancient antisemitic tropes’ according to the University President


Columbia University students have been 'asked to promise that they're not Zionist' as antisemitism rises on campus (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Columbia University has removed three deans from their posts after an internal investigation into antisemitism.

The deans were involved in an exchange of “deeply troubling” text messages which “touched on ancient antisemitic tropes,” while attending a panel on Jewish life at campus, according to Columbia President Minouche Shafik.

Shafik said the University was “taking action” to hold those involved accountable. She said the sentiments expressed in the leaked texts were “unacceptable and deeply upsetting,” and conveyed “a lack of seriousness about the concerns and the experiences of members of our Jewish community”.

The incident, which took place in May, centred on a panel held to discuss “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present, and Future” at Columbia.

During the event, the three senior staff members exchanged messages which accused Jewish campus leaders of exploiting antisemitism to raise money, and belittled the experiences of Jews on campus.

Speaking about the event, Matthew Patashnick, associate dean for student and family support, wrote about the university’s Hillel director Brian Cohen: “He knows exactly what he’s doing and how to take full advantage of this moment…huge fundraising potential”. Cristen Kromm, dean of undergraduate student life, “liked” the message.

The staff members also discussed the Kraft Centre for Jewish Life on Campus, which supports Jewish students at Columbia. “Comes from such a place of privilege,” wrote Susan Chang-Kim, vice dean and chief administrative officer. “Hard to hear the ‘Woe is me, we need to huddle at the Kraft Centre’”.

“He is our hero,” Chang-Kim joked, when one panellist complimented Cohen, executive director of Columbia University’s Hillel. “Lmao [laughing my ass off],” replied Josef Sorett, dean responsible for undergraduate education.

Patashnick, Kromm and Chang-Kim were all removed from their positions.

Sorett has not been removed from his post and instead has issued an apology. “I am deeply sorry,” he wrote. “While not intended as such, some of the text messages exchanged may call to mind antisemitic tropes. Any language that demeans members of our community, or divides us from one another, is simply unacceptable”.

Sorett said: “I am dedicated to leading the College community to higher standards of professionalism, and to rebuilding trust as we move forward in providing the best undergraduate experience for our students and living up to the values of this great institution”.

President Shafik also committed to rebuilding trust. “We will launch a vigorous program of antisemitism and antidiscrimination training for faculty and staff this fall,” she wrote.

Columbia University made national headlines this year for its “Gaza solidarity encampment,” which was established on the campus quad in April and led to violent clashes between demonstrators and NYPD officers. Copycat encampments were established not just across the US, but in the UK, notably on the campus of UCLA in Los Angeles and Oxford University.

Jewish students have said they experienced antisemitism at solidarity encampments. On June 4, Columbia settled a lawsuit filed by a Jewish student, who alleged the university had created a hostile environment for Jews.

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