A Yale Professor Wrote an Op-Ed About Anti-Semitism on Campus. The University Spent Over a Year Investigating Him.

The school has declined to investigate faculty members for celebrating terrorism and calling for the destruction of Israel.

Yale professor Evan Morris (X/@MariamAboian)
May 9, 2024

Yale University spent more than a year investigating a Jewish professor for six words of an op-ed he published in a pro-Israel newspaper, raising questions about the school’s approach to anti-Semitism and free speech as the campus continues to cope with the fallout of the Israel-Hamas war.

Evan Morris, a professor of biomedical engineering at Yale School of Medicine, penned the 2022 op-ed in the Algemeiner along with 14 other professors. They described a pattern of anti-Semitism in the Yale Postdoctoral Association, a group that runs social and academic events for researchers.

The authors listed several examples of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bias. In one aside, they claimed that a researcher at the medical school, Azmi Ahmad, had "blocked an Israeli postdoc from speaking" at an October 2021 screening of a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those six words triggered a marathon investigation by the medical school’s Office of Academic and Professional Development—a body responsible for disciplining professors for "unprofessional behavior"—that began in February 2023, over six months after the op-ed was published, and concluded in April 2024.

The office told Morris that it had been "tasked with assessing the accuracy" of the six-word statement, according to an email reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. It did not tell him who filed the complaint, what policy he had allegedly violated, or what the consequences of that violation could be but said the review was likely to be completed by June 2023.

Instead, it dragged on without updates for over a year, according to Morris and emails reviewed by the Free Beacon. During that time—including in the post-October 7 era—Yale repeatedly declined to sanction students and professors for vicious anti-Israel speech, citing the importance of free expression.

The university took no action against Zareena Grewal, a professor of ethnicity, race, and migration, after she called October 7 "an extraordinary day" and stated that "settlers are not civilians." Nor did it investigate a Yale Law School student group that called for "armed struggle" against Israel and said that Hamas should be delisted as a terrorist organization.

"Yale is committed to freedom of expression," a university spokesperson, Karen Peart, said of Grewal’s remarks. "The comments posted on Professor Grewal’s personal accounts represent her own views."

By contrast, Morris earned a rebuke from the head of the university’s professional development office, Robert Rohrbaugh, who on April 11 shared the findings of the school’s investigation in an email.

"We were not able to substantiate the allegation that one postdoc was blocked from speaking by the postdoc identified in your article," Rohrbaugh said. "Our request to you for the future is that when attributing conduct to a named university community member, particularly a trainee, you be as diligent as possible to be sure information presented is accurate."

The protracted and seemingly selective probe has outraged Jewish faculty members, who say that the finger-wagging at Morris—and the decision to engage in it amid a nationwide surge in campus anti-Semitism—is tone deaf to say the least.

"Apparently, you have learned nothing from the last 6 months of rampant, unremitting and sometimes destructive and threatening anti-Semitism on campus,"  Morris wrote to Rohrbaugh. "Yale spends its resources and 2 years investigating 6 words in an OpEd by its faculty but fails to discipline professors who call for the annihilation of the Jewish people."

Pnina Weiss, a pediatrician at Yale Medical School who did not sign the 2022 op-ed but reviewed the correspondence between Morris and Rohrbaugh, said the investigation was  "hard to reconcile" with Yale’s stated commitment to free speech.

"The administration has defended the right of professors like Zareena Grewal to post on social media—celebrations of the rape, kidnapping, and cold-blooded murder of Israelis on October 7," she told the Free Beacon. "Yet when a group of 15 Jewish faculty write an op-ed about anti-Semitism and the suppression of an Israeli postdoc’s speech, the faculty are ‘investigated’ and reprimanded for misusing the word ‘block.’"

Double standards, Weiss continued, "are the cornerstone of anti-Semitism."

Aside from the verbal slap on the wrist, Yale has yet to formally sanction Morris, and the school declined to comment on its decision to single him out for investigation or say whether any other discipline remains on the table. In a statement on Rohrbaugh’s behalf, the university’s communications office said that the medical school was "not aware of any disciplinary action" against Morris, suggesting the rebuke in April was unofficial.

"Yale University and the School of Medicine vigorously reject anti-Semitism," the communications office said. "For example, the School of Medicine provides support for educational events on anti-Semitism organized by Dr. Morris through a grant from the Academic Engagement Network."

Ahmad, the postdoc named in the 2022 op-ed, did not respond to a request for comment.

The blowback to the investigation comes as Yale president Peter Salovey is preparing to submit testimony to Congress about the school’s handling of anti-Semitism, which, while less heavily criticized than Columbia’s, has generated its share of bad press.

Administrators stood by for days as protesters occupied a university plaza, defaced a World War II memorial, and harassed Jewish students who attempted to film the chaos, culminating in an April 20 confrontation that injured one student and prompted a sheepish apology from protest organizers. Additional encampments and occupations—one of which shut down a major intersection—sprung up sporadically in the following weeks.

Those disruptions followed a string of quieter scandals at the Ivy League university, where the campus aftershocks of Hamas’s assault fueled charges of hypocrisy and double standards. At Yale Law School, for example, the Schell Center for International Human Rights—which in 2022 sponsored a talk on Israeli "apartheid"—resisted calls to host an event about Oct. 7, telling one Jewish student that the situation was "complex."

"What kind of 'Center for International Human Rights' would refuse to host an event condemning the largest pogrom since the Holocaust," Jewish students at the law school asked in an open letter. "Does the Schell Center not think that Israelis are entitled to human rights, too? Or is it perhaps because they were Jewish?"

The center only agreed to host an event after weeks of pressure, including from Jewish alumni. In the interim, several students posted defenses of the Oct. 7 massacre on a law school-wide listserv, which soon devolved into ad hominem back-and-forths.

"Expecting Palestinians to peacefully respond to unspeakable war crimes and illegal collective punishment they've experienced at the hands of Israel is laughable," Iesha Phillips, the lead editor of the Yale Journal of Law & Liberation, responded to one Jewish student. "Too many lives have been lost over the past few decades. We shouldn't only start to care because it's now affecting Jewish folks."

The law school’s hands-off approach to those posts contrasted sharply with its response to Trent Colbert, a second-year law student, when he invited students to his "traphouse" in 2021. Within hours of sending the invitation, Colbert was hauled into a meeting with school administrators who demanded he sign a pre-drafted apology and hinted he could face discipline—including consequences with the bar—if he refused.

They would later claim the encounter had been misconstrued. "We would never get on our letterhead and write anything to the bar about you," Yaseen Eldik, then the law school’s diversity director, told Colbert a month after their first meeting. "You may have been confused."

The backpedaling foreshadowed the tactics Yale used with Morris: launch an investigation, raise the possibility of discipline, then suggest after the fact that the probe’s target overreacted and imagined the threat.

"My prior communication did not question the right of faculty authors to voice their opinion or ask you to change your opinion," Rohrbaugh wrote in response to Morris’s message criticizing the investigation. "Although we found that one of the statements made about a trainee in a national media outlet could not be substantiated, my communication did not raise the topic of apology."

Rohrbaugh also chided Morris for declining to be interviewed as part of the investigation, after the school repeatedly refused to tell him what rule he’d been accused of breaking or who made the accusation, according to emails reviewed by the Free Beacon.

"Have I violated a Yale morality code?" Morris had asked Rohrbaugh in May 2023. "If so, where can I find it?"

He never heard back.