with thanks to J Housman
Picture the following: A discussion in a post-graduate university class on the topic of Jews turns ugly. The professor is uncritical when one student says he doesn’t want to be around Jews. Another student complains about “rich Jews,” implying their excessive power. In a subsequent class, the same professor, as if to validate those points, says half her department faculty are Jews and with her approbation, students conduct a ‘Jew count’.
While this sounds like an episode in Germany leading up to the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws, it occurred more recently and much closer to home, at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work. Now, more details are emerging under the exceptional circumstance of two U of T professors publicly criticizing a colleague for facilitating classroom anti-Semitism and the university administration’s inadequate response.
The controversy began when some visible minority students in a Social Work Master’s program at the University of Toronto expressed discomfort about being around “rich Jews,” in Professor Rupaleem Bhuyan’s class, regarding a proposed outing in 2009 to the Baycrest Centre, an internationally renowned Jewish geriatric and research facility. They were undoubtedly confident of a sympathetic ear from her. The previous year, Bhuyan denounced Israel as a satellite of the United States, unworthy of distinction as a separate country.
The few Jewish students in Bhuyan’s Master’s Program class were intimidated into silence for much of the discussion by a classroom culture slanted against them. 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 and Adrienne Chambon.
“Students are in a vulnerable position and dread officially attaching their name to complaints against a professor in a program like Social Work” said Lightman. “Aside from determining grades, they fear one bad word from a professor to a social agency can eliminate their employment prospects.”
In the face of such circumstances, Lightman assumed the voice of the Jewish students who endured the vitriol in Bhuyan’s class. He, with Chambon spoke to Faye Mishna, the Dean of Social Work about the incidents. A letter Lightman wrote to U of T President David Naylor about the matter also became public.
By way of response, Mishna, without specific reference to the incident or Bhuyan, sent out a pair of letters to the Social Work department generically condemning anti-Semitism.
Lightman believes the university’s response was absurd. “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.”
The Canadian Jewish Congress declined to participate in resulting seminars on anti-Semitism held for the Social Work Department. According to the CJC’s Bernie Farber, “We were not satisfied in the end with the entire process.”
Chambon, a Jewish professor who is Director of PhD programs in the Social Work department, was particularly pained by these events. Originally from France, she relates that “I am from Europe and of a generation with bad memories of the sinister results of Jew counts.” After hearing about the incident, Chambon arranged to meet with Bhuyan.
“I was flabbergasted” Chambon disclosed. “She told me ‘racialized’ students come from underprivileged backgrounds and were justified in not wanting to be around old Jews because they are rich and would make them uneasy. I couldn’t believe my ears. I took some paper and wrote down what she said in front of her. Bhuyan then said the donor plaques at the university were all from rich Jews, which she felt proved her point. Aside from being factually wrong, it reflects an attitude that polarizes groups and reinforces stereotypes that do not belong in the teaching of Social Work.”
Here is a comment I just got from someone who claims to have been in the class at the time.
You are propagating an entirely false, fictionalized account of the alleged incidents. Your article is promoting libel of a respectful professor and should be subject to a law suit.
I was a student of Professor Bhuyan’s at the time and was a participant in the classroom discussions you are referencing. There was no reference to “rich jews” or a any “head count” whatsoever. This story has been perpetuated due to a highly inflammatory and fictionalized letter written and circulated by Ernie Lightman (who himself states he was not a witness to the alleged events).
You need to cease and desist your propagation of this witch hunt or at the very least, do some journalism and source some facts from those who were actually in the classroom setting at the time.
Shame on you.
~Factor Inwentash School of Social Work Graduate, 10