Monday, November 11, 2019

Responding to the December 8 letter to faculty members by Rutgers University’s president and chancellor, which indicated that a tenured professor would be held accountable for his explosively anti-Semitic remarks made on social media earlier this year, Rutgers Hillel released a statement.

In the response, Rutgers Hillel Executive Director Andrew Getraer wrote, “Recent events have focused a negative spotlight on our university, to the deep concern of the greater Rutgers University community as well as the New Jersey, and global, Jewish communities. President Barchi’s recent statement and, more importantly, the actions he has announced, represent important, significant and welcome steps in addressing these issues.”

“Rutgers Hillel applauds the sensitivity and integrity of the university leadership in the matter of Professor Michael Chikindas. Prof. Michael Chikindas’ social media posts expressed a base racism, homophobia and misogyny that have no place in our university or our society. From the first revelation of these remarks, Rutgers Hillel has called for the university to hold him accountable.”

The response continued, “Chikindas’ removal from teaching required classes and from his position as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health are serious concrete actions that address many of the concerns of the Jewish community. “

“We also applaud President Barchi’s statement that the university is seeking further disciplinary action through procedures required by the collective bargaining agreement with our faculty union. We are united in the conviction that Jewish students should not and will not face open anti-Semitism from the faculty of our state university, and look forward to the final resolution of this matter.”

According to the December 8 letter, 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,” wrote President Robert Barchi and Chancellor Deba Dutta.

“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.

Barchi had initially defended Chikindas and other professors at the school who have been accused of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments, stating that these remarks fell under the category of “academic freedom.” No action has been taken against women’s studies associate professor Jasbir Puar or international law adjunct professor Mazen Adi to date.

Getraer addressed the matter of the two other professors in his response. “However, it is important to remember that Chikindas’ remarks do not take place in a vacuum. The revelation of his anti-Semitism occurred in the context of a campus Jewish community reeling from white supremacist flyers, swastikas on buildings and the announcement that another Rutgers professor, Jasbir Puar, has published a book falsely accusing the world’s only Jewish state of what amounts to a modern blood libel. In addition, it has since been revealed that the political science department has employed Mazen Adi, former spokesperson for the genocidal Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, to teach, of all things, international human rights law. Prof. Adi has also voiced support for the blood libel spread by Professor Puar that Israel harvests Palestinian children’s organs for some nefarious cause. These events are a source of continuing pain to the Rutgers Jewish community and have become a national embarrassment to the University.”

“We are at a dangerous moment in time. This past weekend, in major cities around the world, including in New York’s Times Square, thousands of people demonstrated, explicitly calling for violence against Jews—all Jews. This has been followed by violent attacks in Sweden, Israel and New York City.

“In a world such as this, it is imperative that university leadership exert whatever moral authority it has and condemns anti-Semitism in its midst, including the anti-Semitism voiced by Professors Puar and Adi. Even if the university lacks the will or ability to take action against these professors, it has a moral responsibility to reject the messages of hate for which they stand.”

The statement concluded, “Despite these serious and disturbing matters, we reaffirm our confidence that ‘Rutgers Is a Great Place To Be Jewish.’ 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 free 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 in any way 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.”