Columbia deans removed over texts that officials say included antisemitic tropes

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Multiple deans at Columbia University have been removed from their positions after texts were revealed that were antisemitic in nature, according to a message from the school’s president Monday. 

President Minouche Shafik wrote in a letter to the community the messages “revealed behavior and sentiments that were not only unprofessional, but also, disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes.” 

“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,” Shafik added. 

The texts occurred during an event on campus entitled “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present, and Future” and were first revealed by conservative outlet The Washington Free Beacon.  

Four administrators engaged in the text messages, including Cristen Kromm, former dean of undergraduate student life; Matthew Patashnick, former associate dean for student and family support; and Susan Chang-Kim, former vice dean and chief administrative officer.

Josef Sorett, the dean of Columbia College, participated in the group but was not removed from his position. The other three have been placed on indefinite leave but are still employed by the school.  

Angela Olinto, provost for the school, said Sorett has taken full responsibility for his actions, wrote an apology to the community and will be working with the campus to rebuild trust.  

“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. 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 said.

Patashnick in a text message said one panelist was “taking full advantage of this moment” and added it was “huge fundraising potential” for them.

At other points, the four appeared to mock concerns of antisemitism on campus. Chang-Kim made a rude remark about another panelists, to which Sorett responded “LMAO.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the Education and Workforce Committee, focused in on Chang-Kim saying that “comes from a place of privilege” when panelists discussed Jewish students needing a safe space to meet.

“Jewish students deserve better than to have harassment and threats against them dismissed as ‘privilege,’ and Jewish faculty members deserve better than to be mocked by their colleagues,” said Foxx. “These text messages once again confirm the need for serious accountability across Columbia’s campus.” 

The controversy came after months of chaos at Columbia over the Israel-Hamas war as students camped out on campus, eventually briefly taking over a building.  

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