Columbia Removes, Doesn’t Fire Deans Over ‘Unprofessional,’ ‘Unacceptable’ Texts About Jews

By Matis Glenn

A Columbia University campus building. (Google Maps)

Columbia University announced Monday that three deans found to have shared text messages accusing Jews of being “privileged” and using antisemitism as a means to raise money during a panel discussion on Jewish life and antisemitism were permanently removed from their positions, but remain in employment on indefinite leave. A fourth dean will remain in his position following a public apology and commitment to change. The three who did not apologize will be reassigned, the Washington Free Beacon reported, citing anonymous sources within the university.

The panel discussion, which discussed the experiences of Jewish students at the school amid months of student protests which called for death to Zionists, the burning of Tel Aviv, together with a drastic rise in antisemitism on campus, was held as part of a school reunion event.

Professors and administrators were in attendance, including four deans who engaged in mutual text messages reacting to harrowing stories of discrimination and intimidation by using vomit emojis and claiming that Jews were being given special treatment because of money given to the school.

The texts, reported by the Beacon in two pieces published in June and July, included Susan Chang-Kim, the vice dean and chief administrative officer of Columbia College saying “I’m going to throw up,” about an hour into the panel discussion. The Beacon reported that the time of the text tracks with remarks made by Orly Mishan, a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, who described while in tears how her own daughter, a sophomore in the school, “was hiding in plain sight” to avoid antisemitism in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre. Kromm responded to Chang-Kim, saying “Amazing what $$$$ can do.”

The texts were recorded in photographs taken by attendees who were able to read the screens of the deans’ phones during the panel discussion.

Protestors, after their encampments were dismantled with police intervention earlier in May, had regrouped, tried to disrupt the reunion, and attempted to reconstruct the prohibited tents.

Earlier in the discussion, Chang-Kim wrote to Josef Sorett, the dean of Columbia College: “This is difficult to listen to but I’m trying to keep an open mind to learn about this point of view.” Sorett replied “Yep.”

Chang-Kim wrote to Cristen Kromm, the dean of undergraduate student life; and Matthew Patashnick, the associate dean for student and family support: “This panel is really making the administration look like jokers.” Patashnick responded: “Yep.” Patashnick accused one of the panelists of using the forum to raise money. “He knows exactly what he’s doing and how to take full advantage of this moment,” he wrote to Chang-Kim and Kromm. “Huge fundraising potential.” Chang-Kim responded: “Double Urgh.”

Patashnick bemoaned the possibility that Jewish students might soon have their own dormitory as Brian Cohen, head of the school’s Hillel branch, was speaking at the panel about  how many students had felt unsafe since Oct. 7 and were spending a lot of time in the Kraft Center he runs.

“They will have their own dorm soon,” Patashnick said regarding Jewish students. “Comes from such a place of privilege,” Chang-Kim responded two minutes later. The deans made sarcastic remarks about Cohen’s counseling services, saying that the Jewish students were given resources that other groups did not receive.

“Not all heroes wear capes,” Patashnick wrote. “If only every identity community had these resources and support,” Kromm replied.

Other student populations in Columbia, including Muslim, black, Hispanic and Native American have their own dormitories, according to the university’s website.

Kromm used two vomit emojis in reference to an op-ed penned by Columbia’s campus Jewish clergyman, Yonah Hain, published in the student newspaper in October 2023. In the piece, Hain decried the “normalization of Hamas” that he was witnessing.

After the texts were published, the four deans were placed on leave, pending an investigation, as petitions circulated for all of them to be fired. Sorett was the only one of the group who issued a public apology, saying “I continue to learn from this experience and understand the impact that my texts, as well as those between my staff, have had on our community.” He will remain in his position while the other three will be reassigned, but it is not known yet what their jobs will be or if they will be further penalized.  

A spokesperson for the university confirmed to CNN that Patashnick, Kromm and Chang-Kim were all still employed by the institution.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, demanded last week that Columbia hold the three deans accountable.

“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,” Foxx said in a statement.

As part of the Monday announcement, University President Minouche Shafik said that Columbia will require all faculty and staff to attend anti-discrimination training to be developed by the provost’s office, which will include antisemitism awareness. Shafik declined to call the texts antisemitic, rather stating on Monday: “The incident 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.”

Angela Olinto, Columbia’s provost, said Monday that she shares Shafik’s “dismay” and announced the three staff members involved “have been permanently removed from their positions” and will “remain on leave at this time.”

“Their conduct was wrong and contrary to the mission and values of our institution,” Olinto said. “It revealed, at best, an ignorance of the history of antisemitism.”

Reaction to the news of the deans not being fired was swift and fierce.

 “President Shafik of Columbia is a joke,” New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov told Hamodia regarding her decision to keep the deans on payroll. “’Reassignment’? Having the failed leadership of these woke, antisemitic institutions ‘reassigned’ and not FIRED is only going to further perpetuate and encourage antisemitism. Consistent with their modus operandi, these shameful staffers are still on payroll and will probably be given equally cushy positions once they’re back from leave. The only way to resolve the deep-rooted issues at Columbia is to clean house.”

“Not a single one of these antisemites should remain employed by Columbia in any capacity,” City Councilman Kalman Yeger told Hamodia. “Columbia continues to be blind to the antisemitic cancer in its midst.”

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