NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Michael Chikindas, a Rutgers University – New Brunswick tenured professor, has been relieved of some duties following anti-Semitic remarks he posted on social media, according to a letter sent to Rutgers University faculty members.
The letter, sent on Friday by Rutgers President Robert Barchi and Chancellor Deba Dutta, detailed action the university is taking regarding Chikindas, including removing him as head of the Center for Digestive Health at the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health department.
As part of the university’s response, no student is required to take his courses and no Rutgers employee will be required to work in an administrative unit that he heads. Further disciplinary action may be taken, according to the letter
“A fundamental expectation of a university is to provide an environment in which students can learn, discover their passions, and do research free from fears of discrimination, harassment, or disruption,” the letter signed by Barchi and Dutta said. “So, too, should our faculty and staff expect a professional environment that is welcoming and free from discrimination.”
Chikindas was “found to have posted extensive bigoted, discriminatory, and anti-Semitic material on social media” earlier in the fall.
Chikindas’s comments on his Facebook page were first reported by Israellycool.blog and The Algemeiner, a Jewish newspaper in America. According to the reports, he wrote about dozens of anti-Jewish conspiracies, described Judaism as “the most racist religion in the world,” and called Israel a “terrorist country.”
“This material perpetuated toxic stereotypes and was deeply upsetting to Jewish students, faculty, and staff across our community,” Dutta and Barchi wrote. “The fears and concerns they have expressed to us and many university leaders are both justified and understandable.”
In response to learning of the professor’s conduct, Barchi and Dutta said the University “immediately” began an “investigation of his actions in the context of our own policies and relevant law.” Aspects of the disciplinary process remain confidential, but the letter detailed actions being taken as of Friday as a result of the investigation.
According to the letter, Chikindas will be removed from teaching required courses and he has been removed from his leadership position as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health.
Chikindas also 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.
According to the letter, 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,” Barchi and Dutta said. “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. It is our hope that we can navigate these difficult conversations together and that, having been tested by these challenges, we can emerge stronger and with renewed appreciation of our common bonds.”
In response to the action taken by the University, StandWithUS, a 16-year-old, international, non-profit Israel education organization, applauded holding Chikindas accountable for “spreading anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other forms for bigotry on social media.”
“While we were concerned about previous statements made by the Rutgers administration, we are glad they did the right thing in the end,” said Rena Nasar, Tri-State Campus Director for StandWithUs. “I’m proud of the students at Rutgers who stood up and sent a clear message that racism and homophobia have no place on campus.”
StandWithUs also praised Rutgers Hillel on the work they did to ensure Chikindas was held accountable.
“We look forward to working with our partners to support students as they stand up to hate at Rutgers and beyond,” said Jennifer Kutner, StandWithUs Director of Media Relations, in a news release.