Three Columbia Deans Placed on Leave Pending Investigation

Text messages between Chang-Kim and Sorett.
June 20, 2024

Three of the Columbia University deans caught exchanging dismissive text messages during a May 31 panel on anti-Semitism have been placed on leave as the university investigates the incident, a spokesman for the school said Thursday.

"The Dean of Columbia College informed his team today that three administrators have been placed on leave pending a university investigation of the incident that occurred at the College alumni reunion several weeks ago," the spokesman said.

That dean, Josef Sorett, who also took part in the text exchanges, "reiterated his commitment to learning from this situation and other incidents over the last year to build a community of respect and healthy dialogue."

The three deans placed on leave, Susan Chang-Kim, Matthew Patashnick, and Cristen Kromm, were captured—along with Sorett—exchanging derisive and anti-Semitic text messages. The texts included Kromm's use of vomit emojis to refer to a Columbia University rabbi's op-ed sounding the alarm about the eruption of anti-Semitism on campus and Patashnick's accusation that one of the panelists, Columbia Hillel director Brian Cohen, was taking "full advantage of this moment" for its "fundraising potential."

A Columbia spokesman said the school had no comment regarding why Sorett, who took part in the text exchanges, was not placed on leave or on the propriety of Sorett making the announcement that his colleagues are under investigation. Likewise, the spokesman declined to say who would conduct the investigation, to whom the results would be reported, and whether the results would be made public.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce earlier this week requested that Columbia turn over the administrators' texts to the committee by June 26.

"I was appalled, but sadly not surprised, to learn Columbia administrators exchanged disparaging text messages during a panel that discussed antisemitism at the University," committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx said.

A Columbia spokesman said the university has received Foxx's request "and will respond."

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik has not spoken out about the incident, but she told Congress in mid-April that anti-Semitism "has no place on our campus, and I am committed to doing everything that I can to confront it directly."

Sorett issued a private apology last week to Columbia's Board of Visitors, a group that advises the dean, telling members that the text messages did not "indicate the views of any individual or the team." He made no reference to his own participation in the exchanges.

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

"Yup," Sorett replied.