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Columbia Removes Three Deans, Saying Texts Touched on ‘Antisemitic Tropes’

LocalColumbia Removes Three Deans, Saying Texts Touched on ‘Antisemitic Tropes’

Three Columbia University administrators have been removed from their posts after sending text messages that “disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes” during a forum about Jewish issues in May, according to a letter sent by Columbia officials to the university community on Monday.

The administrators are still employed by the university but have been placed on indefinite leave and will not return to their previous jobs.

Nemat Shafik, the Columbia president, described the sentiments in the text messages as “unacceptable and deeply upsetting, conveying a lack of seriousness about the concerns and the experiences of members of our Jewish community.” She said the messages were “antithetical to our university’s values and the standards.”

The announcement came about a month after a conservative website published photos that showed some of the text messages sent by the administrators.

And it followed weeks of unrest at Columbia over the war in Gaza as the university emerged as the center of a nationwide protest movement. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations led Dr. Shafik to order the arrest of students on trespassing charges this spring. In late April, protesters occupied a campus building, leading to more arrests. In May, citing security concerns, the university canceled its main commencement ceremony.

The three Columbia administrators involved in the text message exchanges are Cristen Kromm, formerly the dean of undergraduate student life; Matthew Patashnick, formerly the associate dean for student and family support; and Susan Chang-Kim, formerly the vice dean and chief administrative officer. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Josef Sorett, the dean of Columbia College, also engaged with the administrators in the text exchange.

He will remain in his post, according to the university provost, Angela V. Olinto. “Dean Sorett and I will work together to mend relationships, repair trust, and rebuild accountability,” she wrote. Dr. Sorett also wrote a letter to the Columbia community, in which he said he recognizes “that some of the texts suggest a seeming dismissiveness with regards to the impact that the global rise of antisemitism has had on Columbia’s campus.” He said he is “dedicated to leading the College community to higher standards of professionalism, and to rebuilding trust.”

The decision to keep Dr. Sorett in his position is likely to anger some alumni and community members, more than 1,000 of whom have signed a petition demanding his ouster as dean, writing that he and the three others who were involved in the incident “are not fit to serve as deans of Columbia College and should be removed from their positions immediately.”

Among the signers is the hedge fund investor Dan Loeb, class of 1983.

Many alumni were especially upset by what they considered a tepid apology from Dr. Sorett in June.

When the texts were first made public, he sent an email that said, “I have already spoken to each person involved and we understand that, as leaders, we are held to a higher standard.” He called the photographs of the text messages “an invasion of privacy.”

About a week later, Dr. Sorett sent a second email. “I deeply regret my role in these text exchanges,” he wrote.

The university also announced on Monday that beginning this fall, Columbia students, faculty and staff will undergo required anti-discrimination training that will include a focus on antisemitism.

The sanctions against the college administrators are the latest fallout from an incident that some Columbia alumni have referred to as “Textgate.”

On May 31, in the aftermath of student protests and congressional hearings called to address antisemitism on college campuses, Columbia hosted during its reunion weekend a panel discussion called “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present and Future.” The panel’s speakers included Brian Cohen, the executive director of Columbia/Barnard Hillel, the Jewish students organization; and David Schizer, the former dean of the law school and a chair of the university’s antisemitism task force.

The three administrators and Dr. Sorett were in the audience, and a person sitting behind Ms. Chang-Kim photographed the text messages she was exchanging with her colleagues. The images were shared with The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, which published an article.

Dr. Patashnick texted that one panelist was “taking full advantage of this moment.”

“Huge fundraising potential,” he wrote.

Ms. Kromm made a reference in texts to her colleagues to “Sounding the Alarm,” an Oct. 24 essay published in the Columbia student newspaper, written by Yonah Hain, the campus rabbi.

Rabbi Hain wrote that campus groups asserting in the days immediately after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas that they “stand in full solidarity with Palestinian resistance” represented the “community’s normalization of Hamas,” which he described as “a point-of-no-return moment at Columbia.”

Ms. Kromm texted her colleagues two vomit emojis.

During the panel, Ms. Chang-Kim also exchanged texts with Dr. Sorett.

“LMAO” — “laughing my ass off” — Dr. Sorett replied to Ms. Chang-Kim after she texted a snarky remark about Mr. Cohen.

In late June, the administrators were put on leave, pending a university investigation.

Antisemitism on college campuses has become a top issue for Republican lawmakers in Washington, and after news of the Columbia text messages became public, Virginia Foxx, a Republican representative from North Carolina who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, demanded that Columbia share those texts with the committee.

Columbia officials complied, and last week the House committee released a time-stamped list of the messages, including many that had not been published by The Free Beacon.

The texts included an exchange in response to remarks by panelists about a surge in student involvement at the Kraft Center, where Hillel operates and offers religious and cultural activities for Jewish students.

“Comes from such a place of privilege … hard to hear the woe is me, we need to huddle at the Kraft center,” Ms. Chang-Kim texted.

Later, an alumna in the audience began to cry as she described her daughter’s uneasiness as a Jewish student at Columbia. The woman said she had shared her daughter’s feelings with a representative of the university development office.

“Amazing what $$$ can do,” one of the Columbia administrators texted.

For some alumni, the incident confirmed their concerns. “I was saddened by the texts but not surprised,” said Jonathan Sobel, who signed the petition calling for Dr. Sorett’s removal and who recently served as a chairman for the Columbia College Fund. “For months, many of us had suspected that antisemitism at Columbia was widespread, accepted and existed at or near the highest levels.”

“The jocular and casual nature of the texts made them particularly concerning,” he added. “It makes one think that they’ve had many similar conversations in the past.”

Hurubie Meko contributed reporting.

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