Rutgers University President Robert Barchi met with a delegation from the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations last week. The Jewish community leaders from across the state asked for the meeting after a Rutgers professor’s anti-Semitic Facebook posts surfaced last fall.
“The meeting was cordial and respectful on all sides,” Leonard Cole of Ridgewood said. Dr. Cole is an adjunct professor at Rutgers and a member of the Rutgers Hillel board. He also is co-chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s task force on global anti-Semitism.
Dr. Cole said that Dr. Barchi said he felt he had been misrepresented in the press, and hoped that the meeting would open up direct lines of communication with the Jewish community.
“If we have questions we should get to him directly,” Dr. Cole said.
“He was quick to emphasize — and we respected it — that the overwhelming majority of Rutgers professors are certainly credible and respected,” Dr. Cole said.
The three instructors at the center of the controversy “are just unusual situations,” Dr. Cole recounted Dr. Barchi as saying.
Dr. Barchi said there was no point in discussing one of the instructors, Mazen Adi. Mr. Adi had served as a spokesman and legal adviser to the Syrian delegation at the United Nations from 2007 to 2014. In that capacity, he had accused Israeli officials of trafficking in children’s organs.
Dr. Barchi told the Jewish delegation that Mr. Adi had been a part-time lecturer two years ago, and he has not had an association with the university since.
The situation of Dr. Michael Chikindas, a food scientist who repeatedly posted anti-Semitic memes on his Facebook account, is still “under review,” Dr. Barchi said. Dr. Chikindas is suspended from teaching this semester, and he was relieved of administrative responsibilities.
Dr. Barchi, however, declined to condemn the third instructor who had come under fire from the Jewish community: Dr. Jasbir Puar.
In a 2016 speech, Dr. Puar put forward the idea that “young Palestinian men … were mined for organs for scientific research” by Israel. Last year she published a book that she described as “anti-Zionist,” which accused Israel of a deliberate policy of debilitating and crippling Palestinians.
“He pretty much gave a strong defense of her rights as a legitimate scholar,” Dr. Cole said. “I think he might have used the phrase respected scholar.”
Dr. Barchi said that even when he totally disagreed with somebody’s views, that person still has the right under academic freedom to say such things, Dr. Cole said.
One of the Jewish participants in the meeting suggested that Dr. Barchi use his own academic freedom to denounce Dr. Puar unequivocally.
“The emphasis was on going forward and not dwelling on the past,” Dr. Cole said.
Dr. Barchi said that Rutgers has scheduled a full day conference in March devoted to discussion of anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.
The group gave Dr. Barchi copies of protocols and resolutions on campus bias that had been drawn up by the University of California. They specifically mention anti-Semitism.
The group asked Dr. Barchi to consider implementing those protocols at Rutgers.
“I think that was the most productive suggestion that we made,” Dr. Cole said. “He made no promises, but said he would look at that. It was very encouraging that the president agreed to continue the dialogue.”