In our June 8 issue, the Jewish Standard’s Larry Yudelson broke the story that a longtime sociology professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, Dr. Clyde Magarelli, had regaled his students with conspiracy theories, prominently including Holocaust denial, for years.
And for years the stories had been downplayed, the students who reported them ignored. But this semester, a Jewish student, Benny Koval of Fair Lawn, whose official complaint was met with silence from the university, videoed Dr. Magarelli on her phone, and then posted the videos on Twitter.
Now, William Paterson has reacted. In a June 22 email addressed “To the William Paterson University Community,” the school’s president, Kathleen Waldron, wrote that in response to the video, she had requested a preliminary review of Dr. Magarelli’s conduct. That review has been completed; now, “The University will engage in a formal investigation of misconduct allegations, including but not limited to meeting with the professor and determining appropriate action, including potential disciplinary action, in accordance with all statutory and due process right,” she wrote in the email. “As per standard procedures, the professor will be relieved of all University responsibilities during the pendency of this investigation.”
(Dr. Waldron is planning to retire at the end of this month.)
In response, William Paterson’s Hillel posted a petition at change.org, urging the university and its incoming president, Richard Helldobler, not to drop the investigation, and to have it end in Dr. Magarelli’s removal from the school’s faculty.
“We thank President Waldron for suspending Professor Magarelli while the University investigates the misconduct allegations,” the petition reads. “With this first step, we feel confident in placing our trust in the William Paterson administration to maintain the highest academic standards and commitment to diversity and tolerance which are among its core values. Therefore, we urge the administration to take action regarding Professor Magarelli’s offensive and prejudiced statements and put into motion all efforts to remove him from the faculty of our esteemed University.”
“We are happy with President Waldon’s statement, and we are grateful for it as a first step,” Talia Mizikovsky, the director of Jewish student life for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, who leads the area’s Hillels, said. “But we want to hold the university responsible for continued action and follow-up. We want to make sure this issue doesn’t disappear, as so many other issues have.
“And we are proud that this is an opportunity for our community to come together and share its voice and connections with the larger community, not only at William Paterson but with the larger community in northern New Jersey,” she added. “It’s unfortunate to have to come together in these circumstances, but it is an opportunity to show our strength.”
She’s also proud to say that the petition, and the video that accompanies it, was made by the president of Paterson’s Hillel, Esther Fellin of Fair Lawn.
It’s alarming that despite’s Dr. Magarelli’s ideas — he’s “been recorded on video,” as Mr. Yudelson wrote two weeks ago, “espousing a series of anti-Semitic beliefs about Jews — including the ideas that Askenazi Jews are not genetically related to the ancient Israelites, that 175,000 German Jews found safe harbor in the German army during the Holocaust, and that Judaism has degenerated from a universal religion, with roots in ancient Egypt, to a racist religion.” He also told his students that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was vastly overstated. On a different note, he insisted, among other things, that the moon landings were faked, and physically impossible anyway, and that it was Irish Catholics who started the institution of slavery.
“It is alarming having a conspiracy theorist in a position of power, teaching young adults who might take him seriously,” Ms. Mizikovsky said. “It is a general educational issue, overlaid with an anti-Semitism issue. It’s both insulting science and history and diminishing the lived trauma and atrocity of millions of people.” Although he went after “just about every marginalized group, there was a marked slant of Holocaust denial within his conspiracy theories that alienates and deeply disturbs the Jewish students who take his classes,” she said. “Our petition uses the words competency and academic integrity.”
It also accuses him of misogyny and purveying “crackpot history and science.”
Jason Shames, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s CEO, also reacted to the university’s email. “I want to thank the Jewish Standard for breaking this story, and giving the Federation the opportunity to mobilize our expertise and resources around Professor Magarelli’s insensitive and offensive comments and behavior,” he said. “We are grateful to President Waldron and William Paterson University for their immediate and appropriate response to our inquiry, and we look forward to a successful conclusion to this unfortunate incident.”