Rutgers Professor Michael Chikindas may have violated the university's discrimination policy with comments he made on social media about Judaism, minority groups and related matters, according to a statement from the university.
Chikindas — a microbiology professor at Rutgers' department of food science and director of the school's Center for Digestive Health — wrote about dozens of anti-Jewish conspiracies on his Facebook page earlier this year, according to the Israellycool blog. These include describing Judaism as "the most racist religion in the world," and calling Israel a "terrorist country."
Chikindas' comments also were reported by The Algemeiner, a Jewish newspaper in America.
In a statement Thursday morning, Rutgers Hillel said Chikindas' blog posts are "a profound embarrassment to our university and a source of pain and bewilderment to our students, the largest Jewish undergraduate population in America, and to our alumni, parents, and supporters."
Further, Andrew Getraer, executive director of Rutgers Hillel, said an online petition at https://www.change.org/p/rutgers-university-standing-against-anti-semitism-at-rutgers is being circulated by students. In it, the petition calls on Rutgers University to "take swift and necessary action to suspend Professor Chikindas, pending further investigation."
The petition is intended to send "a clear message that these comments will not be tolerated at our university," said Miriam Waghalter, who created the petition. representing "Concerned Jewish Students at Rutgers."
The petition, Waghalter said, applauds the university's statement condemning Chikindas' posts.
"While we are grateful for this first step, it must be followed by concrete action," the petition stated. "Members of the Rutgers faculty have a great deal of influence over Rutgers students, and the spread of stereotypes and lies is both of grave concern to us and at odds with their role as educators."
In its statement, Rutgers University said that all members of the Rutgers community, including faculty and staff, are free to express their viewpoints in public forums as private citizens.
But the statement said that "Chikindas' 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. Such comments do not represent the position of the university.
"Yet at Rutgers University we must also foster an environment free from discrimination, as articulated in our policy prohibiting discrimination," the statement added. "The university is reviewing this matter to determine if actions taken in the context of his role as a faculty member at Rutgers may have violated that policy."
The Hillel statement categorized Chikindas' posts as antisemitic, homophobic and sexist, and "express a base racism, homophobia, and misogyny which has no place in our university or our society."
The Hillel statement noted that white supremacist flyers were found on the college Avenue Campus earlier this week, and that another Rutgers professor, Jasbir Puar, will be publishing a book accusing the world's only Jewish state (Israel) of what amounts to a modern blood libel.
"Each of these incidents gives voice to traditional racist, anti-Jewish tropes," the statement said. "They both reflect and contribute to trends in our society in which the expression of extremism and prejudice have become common place and even acceptable."
On Wednesday, Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Debasish Dutta met with Rutgers Hillel Executive Director Andrew Getraer and Senior Associate Director Rabbi Esther Reed about the matter.
Dutta assured the two that the university "takes this issue very seriously and that there will be accountability," according to the Hillel statement.
"We are united in the conviction that Jewish students should not and will not face open antisemitism from the faculty of our State University," according to the statement. "Rutgers Hillel applauds the sensitivity and integrity of the University leadership in this matter and we await its concrete actions to resolve this issue."
"We certainly believe in free speech and academic freedom," according to the statement. "But Chikindas' expressions are not simply matters of misguided opinion, but of brutish intimidation. Any Jewish or gay student would rightly fear taking a class with a professor who publicly expresses such vicious and hateful prejudice."
The Hillel statement added that despite what has happened, "Rutgers Is a Great Place To Be Jewish."
It noted that Rutgers is home to 6,400 Jewish undergraduates as well as the newest and largest Jewish campus facility in the country — the Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House on the Wilf Family Campus. Four hundred students gather at Hillel weekly to celebrate and enjoy a free Shabbat dinner. In addition, hundreds of Rutgers students will be traveling to Israel with Hillel this winter, and Rutgers has a notable Jewish Studies Department.