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Columbia ‘permanently removes’ three administrators caught mocking antisemitism panel

Alumni petition says fourth dean also needs to be ‘terminated’ after ‘LMAO’ text

Columbia University has removed three top administrators from their positions after they were caught mocking Jewish leaders and students during a recent antisemitism panel, Provost Angela Olinto wrote in a campus email Monday.

However, some alumni have expressed outrage that Columbia College Dean Josef Sorett, who also was involved in the administrators’ text message conversations, will remain in his role.

On Monday, Olinto wrote three administrators were “permanently removed” from their positions and remain on leave as a result of an “incident” during Reunion Weekend. The memo does not go into detail regarding whether they have been demoted or fired or face something else.

Vice Dean Susan Chang-Kim, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm, and Associate Dean for Student and Family Support Matthew Patashnick were placed on leave late last month after a series of group texts, revealed by the House Education Committee and Washington Free Beacon reports, showed them making critical and mocking comments about an antisemitism panel during the weekend event titled “Jewish Life on Campus.”

“Their conduct was wrong and contrary to the mission and values of our institution,” Olinto wrote.

University President Minouche Shafik also addressed the issue in a campus-wide email Monday, saying the administrators’ texts were “antithetical” to Columbia’s values.

“This incident revealed behavior and sentiments that were not only unprofessional but also disturbingly touched on ancient antisemitic tropes,” Shafik said. “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.”

Shafik also said university leaders are working on a “vigorous” antisemitism training program for faculty and staff in the fall.

Meanwhile, Olinto told the university to expect a separate email from Sorett about his role in the text messages.

“He has apologized and taken full responsibility, committing to the work and collaboration necessary to heal the community and learn from this moment, and make sure nothing like this ever happens again. He has also reached out to leaders of our Jewish community for their partnership,” Olinto wrote.

Alumni say Sorett also should be ‘terminated’

A new petition signed by alumni, students, and employees is calling for his termination. It describes his apology as “weak-hearted” and says he “actively joined his colleagues in mocking the panelists.”

In one exchange, Chang-Kim referred mockingly to a male speaker, presumably campus Hillel Director Brian Cohen, as “our hero,” according to text messages published by the U.S. House committee.

Sorett responded, “Lmao.”

A spokesperson involved with the petition told The Fix on Monday Sorett’s “Lmao” text was a “catalyst” for many alumni.

Young and old, Jewish and non, alumni drafted the petition together because they were so “outraged at the behavior of the dean’s office” and the “rumblings” that Sorett would remain in his position, said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named because of their connections to the university.

“How can a student possibly feel comfortable going to the dean’s office knowing that he and his staff are snickering about the plight of Jewish students behind their back?” the spokesperson said. “[It’s] entirely unacceptable.”

The petition, dated July 2, also urges Columbia to remove the other three administrations. It had more than 1,300 signatures early Monday afternoon.

Deans accused Jewish leaders of being ‘privilege[d]’

One part of their text message exchange shows administrators criticizing Brian Cohen, the leader of Barnard Hillel, Columbia’s Jewish center, a House news release states.

Chang-Kim described him as “such a problem!!!”

“Painting our students as dangerous,” she wrote.

Patashnick responded that Cohen “knows exactly what he’s doing and how to take full advantage of this moment. Huge fundraising potential.”

Kromm “liked” the comment, and Chang-Kim responded, “Double Urgh.”

“Amazing what $$$$ can do,” Kromm wrote at a different point in the conversation.

In another part of the exchange, Patashnick criticized Jewish leaders for making a case to expand safe spaces on campus, writing, “They will have their own dorm soon.”

Chang-Kim replied, “Comes from such a place of privilege … hard to hear the woe is me.”

Kromm wrote: “Yup. Blind to the idea that non-Israel supporting Jews have no space to come together.”

At another point, Chang-Kim wrote, “I’m going to throw up.”

MORE: Top Columbia administrators caught secretly mocking panel on antisemitism

Email inquiries from The Fix to Kromm and Patashnic last week came back with automatic replies stating they are “currently out of the office without regular access to email.” The Fix could not find contact information for Chang-Kim.

Sorett also did not respond to several emailed requests for comment within the past week.

He did apologize in a statement to the Spectator through a spokesperson last week, but he also said the photos of their texts were an “invasion of privacy.”

The university media office did not respond to multiple phone and email requests from The Fix within the past week asking about the texts, the House investigation, the petition, and its actions regarding antisemitism on campus.

U.S. House Education Committee demands accountability

U.S. House committee leaders also demanded the New York university take action.

“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,” Chairwoman Virginia Foxx said in the news release. “These text messages once again confirm the need for serious accountability across Columbia’s campus.”

The North Carolina Republican said the university provided the text message exchanges to the committee after the Beacon’s initial report.

The exchanges provide “a small but clear window into the administrators’ determination to belittle the antisemitism on campus,” the House news release states.

The Fix also contacted Cohen and campus Rabbi Yonah Hain for comment by email twice in the past week, but they did not respond.

Columbia’s leaders have faced continuous criticism from students, staff, and alumni for their handling of antisemitism and pro-Palestinian protests on campus over the past year.

Many have been avoiding questions. In May, most of the university Board of Trustees ignored The Fix’s requests for comment on the situation – including two who hung up the phone.

MORE: Police haul away 100 pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia, Ilhan Omar’s daughter suspended

IMAGE: Columbia Jewish Alumni Association

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.