A top CUNY administrator allegedly told a professor that there were "too many Jews" on the faculty at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, according to a secret recording obtained by the NY Post. In this latest twist in the legal saga of former Interim Kingsborough President Stuart Suss, a professor is heard on tape telling a colleague that Suss made the anti-Semitic remarks to him.
According to a lawsuit filed in federal court last February, the conflict dates back to 2014, when professor Jeffrey Lax, the chair of the business department, filed a formal discrimination complaint with Kingsborough alleging that the school's administration, including Suss, had created a "pervasively hostile" work environment for Jews and discriminated against Jews in decisions about hiring, compensation, and job promotions. Lax's suit states that the administration did not act on this complaint, nor subsequent complaints, and that he was subjected to intensifying harassment and discrimination for speaking up. He apparently filed an action in state court in 2015.
The federal suit, which claims the school took “extraordinary measures” to prevent Lax from getting a promotion, included a reference to the audio described by the Post, in which Suss is reported to have discouraged a prospective job applicant from seeking a position because "there are too many Jews already."
The suit alleged that the school sought to limit the number of Jews on staff, prevented Jews from appealing denials of promotion, refused to allow Jewish faculty members the customary courtesy of serving as an adjunct after retirement, and required departments to balance out any hires of "Outward Jews" with hires of gentiles. Lax identifies as Orthodox, or an obvious "Outward Jew," according to the lawsuit:
Defendant subjected plaintiff to constant discrimination based on his religion, which included without limitation, comments, innuendos and verbal harassment. These comments, innuendos and verbal harassment included, but were not limited to, the following: Suss mocking the religious head coverings of Jewish faculty members; Suss voicing support for suicide bombers and their attacks against Jews; Suss referring to Jews as "horrible"; Suss calling Jews "the Devil" and "evil": Suss agreeing that some departments at Kingsborough "never hire Jews"; Suss denigration people keeping kosher; Suss assuming that all Jews know one another's business; and Suss constantly reminding people that he knows that they are Jewish.
The audio provided to the Post, apparently recorded secretly by Lax, features an exchange between Lax and math professor Ronald Forman, in which Forman admits that Suss had made a remark to him about there being an excessive number of Jews on faculty.
"I'll never admit it, but I heard him say it," Forman says, according to the Post. "Don't quote me, I'll deny I said it . . . Stuart is my oldest friend here, OK? … I understand where you're coming from. Trust me."
Forman told the Post that Lax had not gotten his permission to record their conversation. He said that he was "pissed" but acknowledged that "if it's on the tape, it's on the tape."
According to the Post, all three men are Jewish. Suss and Forman reportedly attend Conservative synagogues. They are apparently not "Obvious Jews," to quote language from the lawsuit.
A May story from the New York Jewish Week reported that five Jewish professors had backed up claims of an anti-Semitic working environment in conversations with the paper, but it did not name the professors.
A spokesperson for the city's Law Department told the Post that the city is "reviewing all the evidence we have obtained in discovery and will respond accordingly." The department told Gothamist it would not offer further comment on the litigation.
Forman has taught at Kingsborough for almost 50 years. In addition to his appointment, he hosts a radio show focused on cabaret music for WKRB, the school's college radio station.
Suss, a former history professor, retired from Kingsborough in 2015. He has since been hired by CUNY's Guttman Community College in Midtown, where he currently serves as vice president for academic affairs and provost.
— CUNY Kingsborough (@CUNYkcc) September 3, 2015
Suss told the Post that he would not comment on the litigation. Neither Lax nor Forman responded to Gothamist's request for comment. CUNY also did not respond to a request for comment.