Emory apologizes for past discrimination of Jewish students

An undated photo of Emory University's dental school. The school has apologized to former students who suffered discrimination because they were Jewish.
Emory University

ATLANTA Emory University is apologizing for years of anti-Semitism at its dental school, when dozens of Jewish students were flunked out or forced to repeat courses, leaving many feeling inadequate and ashamed for decades despite successful careers.

After decades of denial, Emory is trying to make amends for the discriminatory practices at the school, which closed in 1992.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, under dental school dean John Buhler from 1948 to 1961, 65 percent of Jewish students at Emory's dental school were flunked out or forced to repeat one or more years, reports CBS Affiliate WGCL.

"In retrospect it is regrettable, and we have to say that," said Dr. Gary Hauk, Vice President and Deputy to the President of Emory.

CBS Atlanta 46

Dr. Perry Brickman was one of the students affected.

"They either told you could come back and repeat or they told you were out, but in my case they didn't give me an opportunity to come back," Brickman said.

When the data proving discrimination was presented to the university, school officials denied it. But in 1960 things changed.

"When the dental school changed its application form to ask applicants to indicate their race as Caucasian, Jew or other, that sort of practice of anti-Semitism became indisputable," Hauk said.

Shortly thereafter the dean of the dental school resigned, but the university still did not acknowledge the wrong until about three years ago.

"It's a stigma you can't get rid of. It's deep, it hurts you," Brickman said.

Last week Emory hosted a screening of a new documentary it commissioned, "From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory's Dental School History." The university invited many of those former students to meet with president James Wagner and then attend a screening of the documentary, which heavily relies on video interviews collected by one of those students, Dr. Perry Brickman.

"I'm sorry. We are sorry," Wagner said before a ballroom packed with several hundred people. Thirty-one former students or their families were present.

"We knew individually and collectively what the truth was," Brickman said. "But the truth in a situation like this is never really validated until the perpetrator says sorry."

In one interview, former student Ronald Goldstein recalls the dean asking him, "Why do you Jews want to go into dentistry? You don't have it in the hands."

Anti-Semitism at the dental school spread beyond Buhler to other members of the faculty as well, said university vice president Gary Hauk.

Former student George Marholin recalls a professor coming into a room cursing at him and calling him a "damn Jew."

Talk of discrimination in the South in the mid-20th century so often focuses on blacks. In the 1950s, while Jews were being discriminated against at the dental school, there was a push at Emory to integrate black students, and the school in 1962 successfully sued the state of Georgia to overturn a state statute that would strip the tax-exempt status of any private college or university that admitted black students.