Eugene Korn

Something rotten at Columbia

To Minouche Shafik,

President Columbia University

I am an alumnus of Columbia, having earned a doctorate in ethics from its Department of Philosophy in 1973.

I have always been proud of that degree and the invaluable education Columbia gave me. At Columbia, I learned to understand the nature of good and evil, to think clearly about ethics, to distinguish between good moral arguments and fallacious ones, and to know the difference between civilized behavior and barbarism. More generally, I learned to value intellectual seriousness, honest debate, and to respect people who think clearly with fidelity to truth, even when they disagree with me.

I am no longer proud of my association with Columbia. I am embarrassed by it. Something is rotten on the campus of Columbia.

I am appalled at what Columbia has become–a place where honest striving for knowledge and the above values are largely absent, a place where students and faculty are free to intimidate others, where some brazenly celebrate barbarism against innocent babies, young children, and elderly grandparents, where they cheer for the terrorists who rape women, and who champion politicide that portends mass slaughter under vicious political slogans. Clearly, Columbia has failed to educate its students in the basic values of civilization, humanity, and intellectual endeavor.

I am also shocked by the Columbia administration’s neglect to effectively address the antisemitism on campus. The administration has tolerated implicit and explicit threats, racial epithets, and aggressive acts against its Jewish students that you would never tolerate against people of color, women, queer people, or any other group. Many Jews are now afraid to be on campus, to publicly display their Jewish identity, or to express support for Israel. They fear physical aggression, verbal harassment, and humiliation. Every student at Columbia, whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular, pro-Israeli, or pro-Palestinian deserves to feel safe and secure, to be free of intimidation, and to be free to express his/her opinion when it does not threaten harm to others, Columbia’s administration has the responsibility to ensure these sacred rights to everyone on campus. Yet in its timidity and equivocation, you and your administration have failed miserably to exercise this responsibility. You now refuse to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce on December 5 to answer questions about antisemitism at Columbia. Is it because you insist on ignoring antisemitism on Columbia’s campus or because you are too ashamed to have your record held up to scrutiny?

Your recent suspension of JVP and SJP for a few weeks is a palpably inadequate response to serious violations of academic ethics. Censuring these groups for a short time is a mere pro forma slap on the wrist with no serious impact. It holds no offender individually responsible. This has nothing to do with taking sides in the current Israel-Hamas war. Students who violate the basic norms of civility and academia must learn that there are consequences to their behavior. An appropriate response would have been to suspend individual violators from Columbia for a full year, and upon any repetition of the offending behavior, expel them permanently from the university.

Personal consequences for behavior also extend to you and your administration. While once a well-respected institution, there is now a moral stain on Columbia for all to see.

This stain will remain your enduring personal legacy unless you remove it effectively and immediately.

With regret,

Eugene Korn

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, 1973

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn is an ethicist living in Jerusalem. His most recent book is Israel and the Nations: The Bible, the Rabbis, and Jewish-Gentile Relations (Academic Studies Press)