Moving the Priests Around: Columbia To Reassign Deans at Center of Texting Scandal

Top dean to remain in post as others reassigned

July 8, 2024

Columbia University will not fire the four deans who exchanged caustic and derogatory text messages during an alumni panel on anti-Semitism, opting instead to reassign three of them while letting the most senior administrator, Columbia College dean Josef Sorett, remain in his post, according to three people familiar with the university's decision and an announcement from university president Minouche Shafik.

Sorett's subordinates, Susan Chang-Kim, Cristen Kromm, and Matthew Patashnick, who exchanged the bulk of the messages, will be removed for their positions and reassigned, the people said. Sorett was allowed to remain in his post on the condition that he issue a full-throated apology for his role in the exchange and undergo anti-Semitism training, according to a source familiar with the matter.

"I continue to learn from this experience and understand the impact that my texts, as well as those between my staff, have had on our community," Sorett said in the apology, sent Monday morning. "We must and will do better, on behalf of the entire Columbia community."

Shafik informed Columbia trustees of the decision on Sunday, sources told the Washington Free Beacon. Shafik and her deputy, Columbia provost Angela Olinto, sent a university-wide email on Monday addressing the incident and outlining the administration's response.

Though the email said that Chang-Kim, Kromm, and Patashnick would "remain on leave at this time," they will be reassigned to new roles pending the completion of an investigation, sources familiar with the matter said. A spokeswoman for Columbia, Samantha Slater, declined to comment, referring the Free Beacon to Shafik and Olinto's message.

The sanctions stop short of demands from over 1,000 students and alumni who signed a petition last week calling for the dismissal of all four administrators involved in the text exchanges.

"All four of the deans implicated must be held accountable and terminated," the petition read. "Columbia University must deliver an immediate and unambiguous message that antisemitism will not be tolerated."

Instead, Columbia will require all faculty and staff to complete a "new antidiscrimination training," developed by the provost's office, that "includes antisemitism training," Shafik and Olinto said Monday.

Harvard and other elite universities have instituted similar trainings in response to the campus ferment unleashed by the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. That approach had divided Jewish leaders, with some, including former Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman, arguing that the diversity, equity, and inclusion framework on which such trainings are based is itself part of the problem.

"DEI has evolved into a mammoth, ideologically-driven presence on many campuses," David Harris, the former CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said in December. "I don't believe that outside efforts, however well-intentioned, that nibble around the edges or simply seek to add Jews to the DEI agenda, address the heart of the problem."

Monday's email marks the first time that Shafik and Columbia have publicly addressed the messages that set off a month-long public relations crisis. Shafik wrote that the texts, which were first reported by the Free Beacon, were "not only unprofessional" but also "touched on ancient antisemitic tropes."

"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 that is antithetical to our university's values and the standards we must uphold in our community," Shafik wrote. "We are taking action that holds those involved in this incident accountable."

Two of the officials, Kromm and Patashnick, separately suggested that Jews were using their wealth—"$$$$," as Kromm put it—to foment panic about anti-Semitism, while a third, Chang-Kim, said that Jewish students' concerns come "from such a place of privilege."

Other messages used vomit emojis to describe a Columbia rabbi's op-ed and expressed disdain for the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Orly Mishan, who said that her own daughter was "hiding in plain sight" at Columbia.

"I'm going to throw up," Chang-Kim wrote as Mishan was speaking.

Sorett himself joined in the pile-on, indicating that he found the panel "difficult to listen to" and endorsing a sarcastic message about the university's Hillel director, Brian Cohen, after Cohen said on the panel that his "soul has been broken" by the protests on Columbia's campus. Those protests included calls to kill Jewish students and "burn Tel Aviv to the ground."

"LMAO," Sorrett wrote.

Sorett's Monday morning email marks his third attempt at an apology for his own role in the incident. He initially referred to the leaked text messages, which were captured by an audience member during a May 31 panel on "Jewish Life at Columbia," as an "invasion of privacy" and said he had "already spoken to each person involved," omitting any mention of his own role in the affair.

When the Free Beacon sent a reporter to his resident to seek comment, Sorett, who signed a 2020 letter calling to defund the NYPD by $1 billion, called the police.