Students create petition against Rutgers professor for anti-Semitic remarks
More than 3,200 students have signed a petition calling for the suspension of a professor under review by the University for circulating anti-Semitic posts on his personal Facebook page.
The posts made by Michael Chikindas, a professor in the Department of Food Sciences, included caricatures and cartoons criticizing Israeli policies or the U.S.’s relationship with Israel, according to New Jersey 101.5.
Chikindas said his pages were hacked and his personal information was exposed in an email to New Jersey 101.5. He later deleted his Facebook account.
Rutgers administration condemned Chikindas in a statement, which said his “comments and posts on social media are antithetical to our University’s principles and values of respect for people of all backgrounds, including, among other groups, our large and vibrant Jewish community.”
The investigation will determine if “his actions taken in the context of his role as a faculty member” at Rutgers have violated the University’s anti-discrimination policy.
Chikindas said he does not believe he is anti-Semitic and is intolerant of all forms of racism.
"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."
The professor’s posts began circulating on the heels of recruitment posters for a self-identified white-supremacist group being found on the College Avenue, Douglass and Livingston campuses.
In response to the posters, the University issued a statement that said it “condemns all acts and statements of bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and white supremacy, which have no place in our society or on campus.”
In its statement regarding Chikindas, the University maintained its position on free speech.
“All of the members of our community, including faculty and staff, are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens,” the statement reads. "Yet at Rutgers University we must also foster an environment free from discrimination, as articulated in our policy prohibiting discrimination."
Miriam Waghalter, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, expressed concerns of students in the change.org petition she helped create.
“We, Jewish students at Rutgers University—New Brunswick, are deeply concerned regarding Professor Michael Chikindas’ public attacks against Jews, the LGBT community, and the state of Israel,” the petition says. “Professor Chikindas shared multiple Facebook posts that promote the ugliest forms of anti-Semitism and homophobia, which causes great pain and concern to both the Jewish and LGBT student bodies.”
The demographics that Chikindas targeted reflect a large portion of the student body, Waghalter said. She said she considers his posts hate speech, and he should be suspended pending further investigation.
"He claims that '(he) cannot say with confidence that everything on my page was shared by (him),' but he does not outright say that he did not share any of these disturbing posts," Waghalter said. "It is strange for him to say that 'there is a good chance for some things being placed on my page' by hackers without denying that he had anything to do with the posts if he is attempting to defend himself."
The petition's original goal of 2,500 was increased to 5,000 after garnering more than 1,500 signatures one day after its creation.
Joshua Malina, an actor known for his roles in "Scandal" and "The West Wing," tweeted a link to the change.org petition, calling Chikindas an "anti-Semitic, homophobic pig."
Austin Altman, a Rutgers Business School sophomore and another author of the petition, said that Chikindas should be fired for his statements.
Rutgers should be a place for inclusion and safety, Altman said, and the faculty that students learn from should not use their platform as a professor to spread hatred.
“We firmly support the University’s commitment to free speech and expression by all students and faculty, but such hateful and discriminatory images and words compromise a faculty member’s ability to serve in that role,” the petition says.
In a press release, Rutgers Hillel also condemned the professor’s remarks and said he must be held accountable for his actions. Chikindas’ remarks express a base racism, homophobia and misogyny that has no place at the University.
"I do not identify myself as an anti-Semite," Chikindas said in an email to NJ Advance Media. "It is my lifelong credo that all people are born equal regardless of their ethnicity, religion and wealth. I am equally intolerant to all forms of racism, without any exclusions."
He said that the pictures he shared from other Facebook pages were not removed by mediators for the site, and he did not think the posts violated any rules while "raising a question of possible racist nature of Zionism."
Chikindas did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
“Faculty are the heart and soul of the university,” the petition says. “If they are not held accountable when they promote racism and prejudice, then hatred and division will grow, to the detriment of our students, our beloved university and our whole society.”
Editor’s note: This is an ongoing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Alexandra DeMatos is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and women's and gender studies. She is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @dematosaa for more.