Wednesday, April 08, 2020

A letter to faculty members by Rutgers University’s president and chancellor and obtained Friday by The Jewish Link, indicates that a tenured professor will be held accountable for his explosively anti-Semitic remarks made on social media earlier this year.

After the results of an initial internal investigation, Professor Michael Chikindas “was found to have posted extensive bigoted, discriminatory, and anti-Semitic material on social media. This material perpetuated toxic stereotypes and was deeply upsetting to Jewish students, faculty, and staff across our community. The fears and concerns they have expressed to us and many university leaders are both justified and understandable,” said President Robert Barchi and Chancellor Deba Dutta, in the letter.  

“While aspects of the disciplinary process remain confidential, we are taking the following actions today as a result of that investigation:

“1) Professor Chikindas will be removed from teaching required courses. No Rutgers student will be required to take a course that he teaches. 2) He has been removed from his leadership position as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health. No Rutgers employee will be required to work in an administrative unit that he heads. 3) He will be required to participate in a cultural sensitivity training program, and will be subject to ongoing monitoring if and when he returns to the classroom. 4) Finally, Professor Chikindas has been notified that the university is seeking further disciplinary action through procedures required by Appendix H of the collective bargaining agreement with our faculty union.”

“This has been a sad and deeply troubling situation for our students and our staff, and for our faculty, who stand for much nobler values than those expressed by this particular professor. While the university is and should always be a place that challenges students to grapple with complex and even controversial ideas, this situation has threatened the trust between professors and students that is a prerequisite to learning,” wrote Barchi and Dutta.

Robert Barchi, president of Rutgers University, initially defended professors at the school who have been accused of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments, stating that these remarks fall under the category of “academic freedom.”

At a recent student government-sponsored town hall meeting, Barchi discussed Facebook posts by microbiology professor Michael Chikindas, first reported in the pro-Israel blog Israellycool, that called Judaism “the most racist religion in the world,” and also made inappropriate jokes about Judaism and Israel, women and homosexuals. Chikindas also shared anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including that Israel perpetrated the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the U.S. Barchi noted that though the posts may have been extremely offensive, they were still protected speech under the first amendment. He did, however, say that the situation is being investigated to determine whether the posts created a work environment that would compromise Chikindas’ ability to teach or do research, although it appeared from subsequent statements that he believed the professor was unlikely to be terminated.

Barchi went on to defend tenured women’s studies associate professor Jasbir Puar, as first reported in The Algemeiner, whose most recent book asserts that the IDF policy of not shooting suspected Arab terrorists to kill is, in fact, an intentional plan designed to wound Palestinians in an effort to “control them.” Puar also offered support for the BDS movement, and in 2016 called for Palestinians to use “armed resistance” against Israeli Jews.

The Algemeiner further reported that Barchi’s support extended to adjunct professor of international law Mazen Adi, who accused Israeli officials of “trafficking children’s organs” and intentionally targeting civilians when he served as spokesperson for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Barchi said that Adi was vetted before being hired by the university, which was fully aware of his employment history.

As reported in Arutz Sheva, Barchi’s remarks also appeared to malign The Algemeiner, laying blame for its publicizing the professors’ views and labeling it a “blog” and “all that remains of a failed Yiddish newspaper.” The Algemeiner still exists today.

Barchi reiterated that all of these remarks should be protected under “academic freedom” and, therefore, the three could not be prosecuted nor terminated. He reminded the assembled students that when they hear things of this nature, they must keep in mind that there is always a “backstory.” This was of little comfort to the students, many of whom have grown fearful of the recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents on campus.

Some Jewish students have reportedly been threatened with violence. Additionally, a white supremacist group hung posters on buildings on several of the school’s campuses, swastikas have been found taped to dorm room ceilings and students recently found a large swastika spray-painted on the side of one of the university buildings.   

“We consider the Rutgers situation to be a national issue for the American Jewish community,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean, director of global social action, to The Jewish Link.

“The bottom line: Rutgers is a public university,” added the rabbi. “We’ve been in touch with elected officials in New Jersey. This is not about left or right or Israel politics. We cannot allow a situation with straight-out anti-Semites teaching anti-Semitism protected by so-called First Amendment rights.”

Michael Cohen, the eastern regional director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has been an active and outspoken defender of Rutgers’ Jewish student community during this spate of anti-Semitism.

“This situation will not be tolerated,” he told The Jewish Link. “We will be on the ground giving pushback, making sure that Rutgers understands free speech is one thing, but when you have a state university making anti-Semitic speech acceptable, that is unacceptable to the Jewish community and the Jewish world at large, I would think.”

“The Wiesenthal perspective is to make sure to work with state and local elected officials to make sure they are involved and updated,” he continued. “We’ve been in contact with elected officials and they have been speaking out as well. We are in the process of organizing a resistance to this type of behavior. We’re going to continue fighting until we get a satisfactory response. This professor should not be teaching our students in New Jersey.”

“Despite these serious and disturbing matters, we reaffirm our confidence that Rutgers is a great place to be Jewish,” wrote Andrew Getraer, executive director of the Rutgers Hillel, as part of a statement condemning the hate speech on campus.

 “Rutgers is home to 6,400 Jewish undergraduates as well as the newest, largest and most beautiful Jewish campus facility in the country—the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House on the Wilf Family Campus. Four hundred students come together at Hillel each week to celebrate and enjoy a Shabbat dinner. Hundreds of Rutgers students will be traveling to Israel with Hillel this winter. Our student leaders are nationally recognized. Rutgers has one of the finest Jewish studies departments in the country. Rutgers students can walk down College Avenue with pride, free to express their Jewishness as they see fit.”

 “We call upon the entire Rutgers community, administration, faculty, students, parents and alumni to unite in condemnation of this vile prejudice and to ensure that Rutgers remains one of the premier institutions in the nation for Jewish students and for everyone.”

 In the wake of these incidents, students created and circulated a petition calling on the university to “take swift and necessary action to suspend Professor Chikindas, pending further investigation.” On Wednesday, the petition had been signed by nearly 5,600 people. To read the petition in its entirety, visit https://www.change.org/p/rutgers-university-standing-against-anti-semitism-at-rutgers.