With all the Israel-related new anti-Semitism taking place on college campuses lately, people might forget that there is still some good old-fashioned, early 20th century-style anti-Semitism out there, too.
Richard Klagsbrun, a Canadian social media entrepreneur and writer, reported on June 13 on his “Eye on a Crazy Planet” blog on anti-Semitism and a “Jew count” at the University of Toronto. The reported anti-Semitic behavior of a professor of social work (as well as some of her students) took place in late 2009. One of the professor’s U of T colleagues published an account of it in the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism in 2010, and the Canadian Jewish News ran a story on it in early that same year. It appears, however, that it is Klagsbrun’s blog post that has exposed the incident more broadly as it has spread in recent days through social networking on the Internet.
According to Klagsbrun’s reported account, as well as Professor Ernie Lightman’s supporting academic paper, Professor Rupaleem Bhuyan was sympathetic to students in one of her graduate level classes who publicly said they did not want to be around Jews and expressed disdain at having to visit Baycrest Centre, a highly regarded Jewish geriatric and research facility, on a field trip. The students reportedly said they were uncomfortable being around “rich Jews.” Bhuyan neither cut off the conversation nor turned the situation into a teachable moment. In a subsequent class, when students began discussing which of their professors were Jewish, she stated (erroneously) that half the professors in her department were Jewish. She reportedly even approved of the student’s conducting a “Jew count” of the social work professors right then and there.
“Finally, one young woman spoke up, protesting her grandparents had come to Canada with virtually nothing and she was proud her family could now afford the fees for them to reside at Baycrest. That must have rung an alarm bell for Professor Bhuyan, because startlingly, she then admonished her students not to divulge what transpired in class to outsiders. But her classroom was not Las Vegas and what happened there did not stay there. Some outraged Jewish students approached Professor Paula David, who in turn consulted senior professors Ernie Lightman [the professor who wrote the JSAS paper] and Adrienne Chambon,” Klagsbrun recounted.
The two senior faculty members, on behalf of the aggrieved Jewish students, approached Bhuyan, as well as both the dean of the School of Social Work and the president of U of T. They were disappointed with the resultant actions of the university, which amounted to generalized condemnations of anti-Semitism, without any specific reference to Bhuyan and what transpired in her classes. Bhuyan was never called out individually, and her teaching contract was renewed.
“The department’s approach seemed to imply a widespread problem with anti-Semitism — which there wasn’t — and that everyone is potentially a racist when one professor promoted anti-Semitism and was never held publicly accountable. It’s ironic that a department purporting to teach anti-racism is incapable of dealing with racism in its own house. We have a responsibility to students to ensure faculty do not abuse the power inherent in their positions, and to the community-at-large to ensure all the Social Workers it graduates reflect and promote the values of the field. That hasn’t happened here,” Lightman said.