Columbia removes three deans who mocked campus Jew-hatred event
Higher educationFighting antisemitism

Columbia removes three deans who mocked campus Jew-hatred event

“Students deserve better, and Columbia is far from off the hook,” Rep. Virginia Foxx told JNS.

A view of protesters demonstrating outside the campus of Columbia University in New York City, April 22, 2024. (Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. photo)
A view of protesters demonstrating outside the campus of Columbia University in New York City, April 22, 2024. (Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. photo)

(JNS) Columbia University announced on Monday that it “permanently removed” three senior administrators who mocked concerns about Jew-hatred on campus.

Minouche Shafik, the Ivy League school’s president, wrote that the text message exchanges were “very troubling.”

“This incident revealed behavior and sentiments that were not only unprofessional but also disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes,” Shafik wrote in a message to the “Columbia community” on Monday.

“Whether intended as such or not, these sentiments are unacceptable and deeply upsetting, conveying a lack of seriousness about the concerns and the experiences of members of our Jewish community that is antithetical to our university’s values and the standards we must uphold in our community,” he wrote.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who is leading an investigation into antisemitism on campuses as chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, told JNS that Columbia’s response was insufficient.

“To put it simply: not enough,” Foxx said. “Every rock that this committee’s investigation turns over is more proof that ‘elite’ institutions are rotting away and antisemitism is as rampant as ever.”

“Students deserve better, and Columbia is far from off the hook,” she told JNS.

During a May 31 event titled “Jewish life on campus: past, present and future,” the three administrators traded jokes about Jewish campus leaders exploiting antisemitism to raise money and questioned the experiences of Jews and Israelis on the school’s campus.

“Amazing what $$$$ can do,” wrote Cristen Kromm, then-dean of undergraduate student life at Columbia, after a discussion at the event of an opinion article that a campus rabbi penned.

“He knows exactly what he’s doing and how to take full advantage of this moment,” wrote Matthew Patashnick, then-associate dean for student and family support, in response to the executive director of Columbia Hillel.

“Huge fundraising potential,” he added.

Susan Chang-Kim, then-vice dean and chief administrative officer of Columbia College, mocked the role that the university’s Kraft Center for Jewish Life on Campus played as a haven for Jewish students during anti-Israel protests.

“Comes from such a place of privilege,” she wrote. “Hard to hear the ‘woe is me, we need to huddle at the Kraft center.’”

Portions of the text thread were first reported by The Washington Free Beacon in June. The full-text exchange was released by the House Education Committee on Tuesday as part of its investigation into Jew-hatred on campus.

In a message sent alongside Shafik’s, Columbia provost Angela Olinto wrote that the three administrators had been “permanently removed from their positions at Columbia College” but “remain on leave at this time.”

Neither Columbia administrator’s message named Chang-Kim, Kromm or Patashnick.

Columbia declined to comment in response to questions from JNS about whether the administrators were on leave with or without pay, and whether further proceedings are underway to remove them from the university entirely or whether they were on leave due to having tenure.

A fourth administrator, Josef Sorett, dean of Columbia College, also traded messages with Chang-Kim in a separate text chain during the May 31 event.

“He is our hero,” Chang-Kim wrote, with apparent sarcasm, when one of the panelists at the event complimented the Columbia Hillel director.

“Lmao,” replied Sorett. (The initials refer to “laughing my ass off.”)

Sorett apologized on Monday for his role in the exchanges.

“The entire incident was contrary to the values of the university,” 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,” he added. “I am deeply sorry that this happened in a community that I lead and that I was part of any of the exchanges, and I pledge to spearhead the change we need to ensure this never happens again.”

Sorett also said that he had individually apologized to all of the panelists at the May 31 event.

In their messages, Shafik, Olinto and Sorett outlined a campaign intended to restore the confidence of Columbia’s Jewish students, faculty and alumni, which will include antisemitism training for faculty, staff and students, as well as “sustained engagement with Jewish community leaders.”

In response to the announcement, the Columbia Jewish Alumni Association asked what the university’s administration intends to do in response to the underlying issue of anti-Israel and antisemitic protest encampments that hijacked Columbia’s campus in the spring.

“What then, will the school do come fall?” the association asked. “Will they continue to allow certain faculty to promote and condone attendance in illegal encampments that traffic in the same tropes?”

“Will they allow hundreds of students to break the school’s code of conduct in the service of bullying and harassing Jewish students?” they added. “The alumni chats are on fire again right now.” PJC

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