Columbia University ousts 3 deans over texts with ‘anti-Semitic tropes’

US university says it will introduce a ‘vigorous’ anti-discrimination training programme after the incident.

Columbia University, New York, the US
Columbia University in New York City in the United States [Heena Kausar/Al Jazeera]

Columbia University has placed three of its deans on indefinite leave after it says they exchanged text messages that downplayed Jewish students’ concerns about discrimination and echoed “anti-Semitic tropes”.

The deans’ messages were sent during a May panel discussion on Jewish life on the campus in New York City.

Among them were a message suggesting that a panelist could have used recent campus protests as a fundraising opportunity and another that appeared critical of a campus rabbi’s essay about anti-Semitism.

The panel about anti-Semitism was held a month after university leaders called in police to clear pro-Palestinian protesters out of an occupied administration building and dismantle a tent encampment that had threatened to disrupt graduation ceremonies.

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik wrote a campus-wide email condemning the messages, which were unveiled by a committee of the United States Congress investigating claims of anti-Semitism at the university.

“This incident revealed behaviour and sentiments that were not only unprofessional but also, disturbingly, touched on ancient anti-Semitic tropes,” Shafik said.

“These sentiments are unacceptable and deeply upsetting, conveying a lack of seriousness about the concerns and the experiences of members of our Jewish community.”

The university said the three deans on leave will not return to their positions, and it will introduce a “vigorous” anti-Semitism and anti-discrimination training programme this fall.

A fourth dean who participated in the group chat but apologised for his role, Columbia College Dean Josef Sorett, will stay on, according to Provost Angela V Olinto.

In a letter to students, Sorett said he was “dedicated to leading the College community to higher standards of professionalism and to rebuilding trust”.

Columbia University has attracted controversy since April when students set up a pro-Palestine solidarity encampment, spurring a wave of similar demonstrations around the world.

University administrators accused some protesters of using anti-Semitic language and creating an unsafe environment. They cracked down on the encampment by sending in police, who made more than 1,000 arrests, and suspending more than 100 students.

Protest leaders rejected the university’s allegations, saying it was Columbia’s move to call in police officers that put students in harm’s way.


Source: Al Jazeera