Just one month into her first semester at Cornell, as she prepared to observe the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, Nicole Barel ’16 was faced with her first-ever encounter with what she said was anti-semitism, in the form of an email she believed to have been sent by one of her professors.
In an attempt to contact Prof. Bruce Monger, earth and atmospheric sciences, to request an excused absence from his Introduction to Oceanography lecture on Monday, Barel inadvertently added one extra digit to Monger’s netID — and found herself the subject of what she said was an offensive rant.
“If you cannot come to the realization that higher learning is more important than ancient traditions, I suggest you move to Palestine and try to grow crops in the desert, your promised holy land,” said the email, which was obtained by The Sun.
In an interview with The Sun on Wednesday, Brian Mick ’10 took credit for sending the email, in which he impersonates Monger — who later condemned the contents of the email — in a tirade against the University’s accommodations for religious holidays. He said he sent the email not only as a prank but also a “statement to the Cornell community.”
“I figured I would have a little fun, do a little trolling — but it underlies a serious issue with religion and academia today,” Mick said. “We need to not make allowances for people based on their religion. Everyone can have their own religion, but when it comes to academia, which you’re paying $50,000 a year for, you need to get your priorities in order.”
In the email, Mick, posing as Monger, informs Barel that the “Jewish high holidays are not an acceptable reason to miss class,” and that he cannot allow her to “pick and choose your classes based on some beliefs in a God.”
After rejecting her request for an excused absence on Monday, Mick goes on to criticize specific Jewish customs and traditions.
“Judaism is also outdated and harks to a forgotten time, when pork would spoil because we didn’t have refrigerators and people believed that painting lambs blood on their doors would prevent plagues,” the email says. “It’s simply nonsense, and to say you’ll be skipping four hours of important, contemporary instruction is blasphemous to science and shows a grievous misappropriation of your time and priorities.”
Barel said she was stunned — and livid — when she received Mick’s email, which she believed, at the time, was written by Prof. Monger.
“I couldn’t believe that someone from the faculty would actually speak to me that way. I almost couldn’t breathe I was so angry. All I could think was … ‘I cannot wait to get this anti-semite fired,’” she said.
After the initial shock, Barel forwarded the email and a complaint to a number of University administrators, including President David Skorton, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67, a rabbi at the Center for Jewish Living, her faculty advisor and Prof. Arthur Degaetano, chair of the department of earth and atmospheric sciences.
“I am embarrassed to study at and pay tuition to a University who hires a hater and anti-semite such as Monger. I expect this to be dealt with very seriously,” Barel said in her email.
Shortly after, a friend of Barel’s realized she had been duped.
To achieve an appearance of authenticity in his impersonation of Monger, Mick said he changed the display name on his email account to “Bruce Monger” and signed the email with a fake signature that contained Monger’s official University title and his office phone number.
Barel was not impressed.
“I don’t know if he wanted to just be funny or anti-semitic, but he did not accomplish anything,” Barel said. “I hope that this guy gets in trouble with the University and with the law.”
But Cornell officials — who declined to discuss this specific incident, but spoke generally on University policy — said that there is little recourse for the administration to address inappropriate conduct by Cornell alumni who are no longer on campus.
“The campus Code of Conduct … does not cover alleged misconduct by people who have already graduated,” said Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88. “We want to support people, but we also have to recognize the boundaries of what we’re authorized to do according to the code … If it doesn’t say something in the code, there’s nothing our office can do about it.”
Mick said he had not been concerned about potential consequences when writing the email.
“I figured she’d send me a nasty email back and delete it; that’s what I would have done,” Mick said. “It wasn’t aimed at her personally, although I’m sure it seemed like it. I have nothing personal against her.”
Regardless of whether or not Mick intended to hurt Barel, Monger called the decision to send the email “evil.”
“It’s not a funny prank; it was beyond a joke. This was really trying to be hurtful. There wasn’t a hint of sarcasm; it was just rude,” Monger said.
The sentiments expressed in the email were the “polar opposite of what I would have done,” added Monger, who delivered a repeat of his Oceanography lecture Tuesday night for students who were unable to attend on Monday.