Columbia Deans Placed on Leave Over Texts

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Columbia University has placed three senior administrators on leave after insensitive text messages were revealed during a panel discussion about antisemitism on campus. The involved administrators are Vice Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Susan Chang-Kim, Associate Dean for Student and Family Support Matthew Patashnick, and Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm.

The text messages surfaced during a May 31 Columbia College reunion panel titled “Jewish Life on Campus,” which focused on the campus climate following the October 7 attack. The New York City campus has been a focal point for protests over the Israel-Hamas war.

The messages, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, revealed dismissive comments by the administrators while panelists, including the co-leader of Columbia’s antisemitism task force and the head of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, discussed concerns about rising antisemitism. Patashnick allegedly remarked about the fundraising potential of the situation, to which Chang-Kim replied, “Double Urgh.” 

Columbia College Dean Josef Sorett, who also participated in the text exchange, was noted for responding with “LMAO” when Chang-Kim sarcastically referred to the Hillel official as “our hero.” In another exchange, Chang-Kim expressed difficulty in listening to the discussion but claimed to keep an open mind, with Sorett agreeing.

Following the exposure of these messages, Sorett informed his team of the administrators’ leave and the pending university investigation. He emphasized the commitment to learning from this incident and fostering a community of respect and healthy dialogue. Sorett, while cooperating with the investigation, will recuse himself from matters related to the probe but will continue serving as Dean.

This incident has exacerbated tensions at Columbia, which has been under scrutiny for its handling of student protests. University President Minouche Shafik faced criticism for involving the NYPD, leading to hundreds of student arrests, and for her responses to antisemitism concerns during a congressional hearing.

Recently, criminal charges were dropped against pro-Palestinian student protesters arrested in April after occupying a building at Columbia. The university has reiterated its commitment to addressing antisemitism, discrimination, and hate, aiming to ensure a respectful and safe community for all.