A Message from the Dean

Monday, July 8, 2024

The message below was sent to Columbia College students on the morning of Monday, July 8, 2024.

Dear Columbia College community,

While I do not typically write to you at this time, during the summer months, I am reaching out now to update you on the actions that we are taking following an incident related to a set of text messages exchanged during a reunion weekend panel discussion entitled “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present, and Future” this past May.

As the leader of Columbia College, I am responsible for setting the culture and tone of the staff of the College. The entire incident was contrary to the values of the University. While not intended as such, some of the text messages exchanged may call to mind antisemitic tropes. Any language that demeans members of our community, or divides us from one another, is simply unacceptable. I am deeply sorry that this happened in a community that I lead and, that I was part of any of the exchanges, and I pledge to spearhead the change we need to ensure this never happens again.

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. The loss of trust and the pain this incident has caused, particularly to the Jewish members of our community, must be fully repaired. I also recognize that some of the texts suggest a seeming dismissiveness with regards to the impact that the global rise of antisemitism has had on Columbia’s campus. I am dedicated to leading the College community to higher standards of professionalism, and to rebuilding trust as we move forward in providing the best undergraduate experience for our students and living up to the values of this great institution. I have reached out to all individuals on the panel to apologize. I also have a deep appreciation for the important contributions that Jewish students, faculty, alumni and administrators have made to Columbia. The College’s embrace of a diversity of viewpoints, identities and experiences is longstanding and unequivocal, and that fully extends to all Jewish students. Anything else would be at odds with Columbia’s history and our abiding mission.

As Provost Olinto stated, the three staff members involved in the text exchanges have been permanently removed from their positions at Columbia College and remain on leave at this time. We will get to work on rebuilding our administrative and student life infrastructure for the future.

I am resolute in my duties to the job at hand: The work of healing and repair and rebuilding of trust and accountability. All College personnel will be participating wholeheartedly in the University’s new antisemitism and antidiscrimination training for every staff and faculty member — as noted in President Shafik’s message — as our community confronts antisemitism and all forms of discrimination and hate. We will also engage in workplace culture training for our leadership and create more sustaining partnerships with Jewish leaders and other members of our communities. I will work closely with Provost Olinto and others to ensure that we are successful in this important work and will hold myself accountable for its success.

This incident has confirmed yet again how much we must do together both to understand and effectively address issues of difference and discrimination, including antisemitism. I am committed to a College in which all members are treated with dignity and respect. We must and will do better, on behalf of the entire Columbia community.

As a scholar of religion and race, my work has long been defined in relationship to communities struggling to think and talk together across all kinds of difference, in service to the whole. I continue to see my work as dean in this vein, and as anchored in a vision of lifelong learning and human flourishing.

With respect,

Josef Sorett
Dean of Columbia College
Vice President for Undergraduate Education