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Columbia places three administrators on leave amid investigation, cites commitment to ‘confronting antisemitism’

<i>Jeenah Moon/Reuters via CNN Newsource</i><br/>People walk past Columbia University in New York in October 2023. Columbia University says it’s placed three administrators on leave pending a university investigation.
Jeenah Moon/Reuters via CNN Newsource
People walk past Columbia University in New York in October 2023. Columbia University says it’s placed three administrators on leave pending a university investigation.

By Kristina Sgueglia, CNN

(CNN) — Columbia University says it’s placed three administrators on leave pending a university investigation of a weeks-old incident at an alumni reunion event.

The university, which reiterated its commitment to combatting antisemitism, did not share any specifics for the leave. But the Washington Free Beacon and later the Columbia Spectator published images or descriptions of school officials purportedly sharing messages during a May 31 panel discussion that focused on Jewish life on campus amid tensions over the war abroad. Columbia College Dean Josef Sorett said in a statement to the Spectator that he “deeply regret(s)” his role in the texts.

CNN has not been able to independently vet the images, the substance of the purported texts or the identity of the conversations’ participants.

“The Dean of Columbia College informed his team yesterday 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,” a Columbia spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

“The Dean 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 statement read.

“We are committed to combatting antisemitism and taking sustained, concrete action to ensure Columbia is a campus where Jewish students and everyone in our community feels safe, valued, and able to thrive.”

In a follow-up statement to CNN, a spokesperson said that “Columbia College is attending to this situation with the utmost seriousness,” later adding, “as that effort is pending the College will not be at liberty to discuss any specifics regarding the investigation or the initial incident.” The spokesperson added “we are committed to confronting antisemitism, discrimination and hate.”

Columbia has been swirling in headlines for months now as the university faces intense scrutiny for their handling of campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war – leading, at one point, to a vote of no confidence in its president Minouche Shafik. A group within the university’s arts and sciences faculty in May rebuked Shafik for the administration’s response to the protests, although fewer than a fifth of the full-time faculty voted.

Columbia was the site where dozens were arrested for storming Hamilton Hall during a pro-Palestinian protest in April. Charges were recently dismissed against many of the participants.

Representative Virginia Foxx, who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which is investigating Columbia for its handling of antisemitism on campus, released a statement earlier this month following reports saying in part: “I was appalled, but sadly not surprised, to learn Columbia administrators exchanged disparaging text messages during a panel that discussed antisemitism at the University.”

“Columbia’s Jewish community deserves better than this,” Foxx continued in the statement obtained by CNN.

Josef Sorett, the dean of Columbia College, said in a statement provided to CNN he was cooperating with the investigation.

“I deeply regret my role in these text exchanges and the impact they have had on our community,” Sorett said in a statement he sent to the Columbia College Board of Visitors Friday and provided to CNN.

“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.”

Citing an unnamed university official, the New York Times also reported that Sorett “will be recused from matters relating to the investigation while continuing to serve as dean.”

CNN is reaching out to the other administrators allegedly involved in the text exchange.

CNN’s Matt Egan and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed reporting.

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