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Required Rutgers courses will no longer be taught by Chikindas

Students and faculty will no longer be required to work with professor in the Department of Food Science Michael Chikindas after University administrators released a list of disciplinary actions taken in response to anti-Semitic posts made to his Facebook earlier this year.  – Photo by Facebook

In a letter sent to Rutgers faculty Friday morning, University President Robert L. Barchi and Chancellor Debasish Dutta disclosed that students would not have to fulfill any necessary course requirements taught under Michael Chikindas, a professor in the Department of Food Science.

Chikindas is subject to an investigation conducted by the University after anti-Semitic content was posted to his Facebook earlier this year.

Outlined throughout the letter were actions taken by the University in response to Chikindas’s actions. Barchi and Dutta began by recapitulating the fundamental expectation of a university — to provide an environment where students can learn, discover their passions and conduct research free of discrimination, harassment or disruption.

These expectations extend beyond students and include the faculty and staff at the University who expect a professional environment free from discrimination, the letter said.  

Chikindas was first found to have posted anti-Semitic content on his social media page earlier this semester. The Daily Targum reported on the incident, citing the 3,200 students who signed a petition calling for Chikindas’s suspension from the University. 

According to New Jersey 101.5, Chikindas made Facebook posts of cartoons criticizing Israeli policies and the U.S.’s relationship with Israel.

In one of the screenshots taken, Chikindas says the “Jewish mother****** do not control me,” among other things, New Jersey 101.5 reported. 

Chikindas said that his page had been hacked and that his personal information was exposed in an email with  New Jersey 101.5.  His Facebook account was later deleted. 

“Should I knew (sic) that sharing these freely available pictures questioning Zionism on possible racist actions can be seen as anti-Semitic, I would never do it," Chikindas said to NJ 101.5. "I strictly separate anti-Semitism from intolerance to Zionism."

During this time, the University condemned Chikindas in a statement, stating that his actions opposed the principles and values of respect embodied at Rutgers, and that such comments do not represent the position of the University, according to their press release. 

Barchi and Dutta echoed these sentiments in their letter. 

“This material perpetuated toxic stereotypes and was deeply upsetting to Jewish students, faculty and staff across our community. The fears and concerns they have expressed to us and many university leaders are both justified and understandable,” the letter said.

The letter said that upon learning about this initial incident, the University launched its own investigation into Chikindas’s conduct within their own context and policies. Certain disciplinary processes are confidential and were omitted from the letter. 

What followed was a comprehensive list of the actions taken by the University in response to Chikindas as of Friday. 

Chikindas will be removed from teaching required courses so no Rutgers students will be required to take courses he teaches, and he has been removed from his leadership position as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health, the letter said.

No Rutgers employees will be required to work in an administrative unit that he heads. Chikindas 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.

The University is seeking further disciplinary action through procedures under the collective bargaining agreement with its faculty union and Chikindas has been notified of this, the letter said.

“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,” the letter 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.”

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