Columbia Dean Calls Cops on Free Beacon Reporter

We wanted to ask Columbia College dean Josef Sorett questions. He summoned the police—after calling to defund the NYPD in 2020. 

June 21, 2024

MANHATTAN—Columbia College dean Josef Sorett called the police on Friday in response to a knock on his door from a Washington Free Beacon reporter.

The call came after the Free Beacon visited Sorett’s Morningside Heights residence to ask him about his involvement in a series of text messages he and three other Columbia University administrators sent during a panel on anti-Semitism late last month.

Sorett never came to the door, asked the Free Beacon to leave, or declined to answer questions. But when the Free Beacon emerged from the building, several campus policemen and New York City Police Department officers were outside and informed the Free Beacon that they had received a complaint.

A Free Beacon reporter approached Sorett's apartment building around 2 p.m. Friday and an employee let the reporter into the building. The reporter had come from campus, where Sorett was not present in his office.

When the Free Beacon rang Sorett’s doorbell, a female approached the door but never opened it. The reporter identified herself and her outlet and indicated her desire to speak with Sorett. She heard the woman call, "Babe?" but Sorett never came to the door.

After waiting for roughly 10 minutes, the Free Beacon left—and was greeted outside the apartment building by officers representing the New York City Police Department and Columbia University Public Safety.

A Columbia University Public Safety officer asked if the Free Beacon reporter was on Sorett's floor, telling the reporter he "got a call complaining, it's nothing crazy." The reporter provided identification and informed the officer of the purpose of the visit. The officer then appeared to take a call from a Columbia University official, saying, "It's a person from the press. I'm actually standing here talking to her right now at the front door."

The officer went on to suggest Sorett "raised a whole big issue" and said he was surprised that the NYPD also responded to the call.

"You saw the cops going in," the officer said. "I didn't even expect them to show up." After taking the Free Beacon reporter's information, the officer thanked the reporter. "You're all set," he said. "Thank you so much."

Sorett’s willingness to call the police to protect him from a reporter comes four years after he signed a 2020 faculty letter calling to "defund the NYPD by $1 billion."

"We support the movement’s call for defunding the police, and a fundamental change in the investments in our communities," the letter states. "The demand to defund the police is a declaration of our democratic right as community members to wrest the power to commit violence away from the police."

Friday’s events come a day after Sorett announced that three of his colleagues have been placed on leave pending an investigation into their text exchanges, which Congress has demanded they turn over.

Until Friday, though, Sorett had not acknowledged his own role in the scandal, something he did for the first time in an email sent Friday afternoon to Columbia University’s Board of Visitors, an alumni body that advises the dean.

"I deeply regret my role in these text exchanges and the impact they have had on our community," he wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Free Beacon. "I am cooperating fully with the University's investigation of these matters. I am committed to learning from this situation and to the work of confronting antisemitism, discrimination, and hate at Columbia."

Sorett did not respond to a request for comment.

The Friday afternoon ordeal came in the wake of a Free Beacon report that revealed Sorett is further implicated in the texting scandal than originally known.

The controversy stems from a panel on campus anti-Semitism held May 31 during which Sorett and three other Columbia administrators—Susan Chang-Kim, Matthew Patashnick, and Cristen Kromm—were captured exchanging vitriolic text messages that mocked and dismissed the concerns of Jewish students and officials.

At one point during the panel, Chang-Kim texted Sorett to say the panel "is difficult to listen to but I'm trying to keep an open mind to learn about this point of view." Sorett responded, "Yup."

Text messages between Chang-Kim and Sorett.

A subsequent photo obtained by the Free Beacon shows Sorett also sneered at Columbia's Hillel director, Brian Cohen. After Chang-Kim sent Sorett a sarcastic text calling Cohen "our hero," Sorett responded, "LMAO."

While the scandal landed Chang-Kim, Patashnick, and Kromm on leave while Columbia investigates the incident, Sorett was not included in the disciplinary move.

A Columbia spokesman said Friday that Sorett "will be recused from all matters relating to the investigation while continuing to serve as dean of the College."