Columbia administrators’ leaked text conversations during an antisemitism panel leads to investigation from University as they get placed on leave, sparking rage from some on antisemitic speech.

As of this week, Columbia deans Susan Chang-Kim, Cristen Kromm, and Matthew Patashnick have officially been placed on administrative leave following leaked text exchanges during an antisemitism panel alumni event on May 31. 

An article published by the Washington Free Beacon showed images of the text exchanges. They appear to have been captured by another attendee who sat behind Chang-Kim and took pictures of her phone screen. In one photograph, Associate Dean for Student and Family Support Matthew Patashnick wrote, “He knows exactly what he’s doing and how to take full advantage of this moment,” presumably in response to a panel speaker. “Huge fundraising potential,” Dean Patashnick stated. “Double urgh,” responded Vice Dean and Chief Administrative Officer Susan Chang-Kim. 

Another exchange refers to a Columbia Daily Spectator op-ed written by Columbia/Barnard Hillel Rabbi Yonah Hain, in which Hain condemns Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and pro-Palestine student protesters who overlooked “Jewish suffering.” In an obtained photograph, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm stated “And we thought Yonah sounded the alarm” followed by two vomit emojis. It is unclear whether this statement is referring to a discussion on the op-ed itself or a panelist’s speech. 

Other messages between Dean Chang-Kim and Dean of Columbia College and Vice President for Undergraduate Education Josef Sorett were reported. One from Chang-Kim wrote, “This is difficult to listen to but I’m trying to keep an open mind and learn their point of view,” to which Sorett responded,“Yup.” In another text, Chang-Kim stated, “This panel is really making the administration look like jokers.” 

Another photograph disclosed additional texts between Sorett and Chang-Kim. According to the Free Beacon, Hillel Executive Director Brian Cohen reportedly stated that his “soul has been broken” by protests at Columbia. In the obtained photograph, Chang-Kim writes, “He is our hero,” to which Sorett responds, “Lmao.”

According to The New York Times, an investigation of the text messages is occuring while the three deans are on leave. Meanwhile, Sorett is expected to cooperate with the investigation and be “recused from matters relating to the investigation while continuing to serve as dean.”

Following the report by Washington Free Beacon, Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and led April’s congressional hearing on antisemitism at Columbia, released a statement “demanding that the university produce these administrators’ text messages to the Committee” by June 26. It is unclear whether the University has provided the messages to the Committee. 

The leaves of these three administrators follow a pattern of Columbia’s strict definition of antisemitism. Members of Columbia’s Task Force on Antisemitism recently shared with Israeli newspaper Haaretz its plans to develop a mandatory antisemitism orientation for new students and faculty. This plan was not disclosed to the University’s community and, according to Haaretz, a report detailing anonymous instances of antisemitism on campus will be shared in the upcoming weeks. This orientation will include the committee’s definition of antisemitism, including equating examples of anti-Zionism with possible antisemitism.

Critiques of the policy change, including Columbia Journalism alumni Tulika Bose, questioned the validity of this change. On X, Bose wrote, “As a South Asian journalist— it is *not racist* to be strongly against Hindutva — the Hindu Nationalist movement that strongly resembles Zionism. (Kashmir is our Palestine.) Conflating South Asians with Hindutva — however — is. Why doesn’t the same logic apply?”

The Columbia community awaits information regarding the University’s investigation into the administrators on leave as well as further information on policies intended to combat antisemitism. 

Bwog reached out to the University for comment. An official responded that the University is “committed to combatting antisemitism and taking sustained, concrete action to ensure Columbia is a campus where Jewish students and everyone in our community feels safe, valued, and able to thrive.” The official also confirmed that as of Thursday, three administrators have been on leave “pending a university investigation of the incident.” The University official stated that Dean Sorett “reiterated his commitment to learning from this situation and other incidents over the last year to build a community of respect and healthy dialogue.”

Madeline Douglas and Helen Chen contributed to the writing of this article.

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