Atlanta's Emory apologizes for anti-Semitism

By Kate Brumback

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 11 2012 2:01 p.m. MDT

James W. Wagner, right, president of Emory University, speaks as Perry Brickman stands after a film premiere documenting the period 1948-1961, when an abnormally high rate of failure for Jewish dental students at Emory pointed to a culture of anti-Semitism in one corner of the campus, at Emory University on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. 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. The documentary film "From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory's Dental School History," by former dental student Perry Brickman, who was kicked out in 1952, featured interviews with dozens of men who had been affected by the school's anti-Semitism.

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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.

The Atlanta school invited many of those former students to meet with president James Wagner on Wednesday and then attend a screening of a documentary about the discrimination, which heavily relies on video interviews collected by one of those students, Dr. Perry Brickman.

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

"I'm sorry. We are sorry," Wagner said before a ballroom packed with several hundred people.

Under dental school dean John Buhler from 1948 to 1961, about 65 percent of Jewish students were flunked out or forced to repeat courses, while the rate of failure or repeats was dramatically lower before that period, according to statistics compiled by then-director of the Anti-Defamation League, Art Levin. Anti-Semitism at the dental school spread beyond Buhler to other members of the faculty as well, said university vice president Gary Hauk.

An admissions quota at the time allowed about four Jewish students a year, so there were likely about 48 Jewish students admitted during Buhler's tenure, Hauk said. At a private meeting with Wagner on Wednesday 31 former students or their families were present.

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.

Some students didn't realize the extent of the anti-Semitism until they got letters alleging poor academic performance.

Brickman, who's now 79, entered Emory in 1951. All four Jewish students in his dental school class were gone within two years. He did well his first year and was never summoned to speak about his academic performance, so he was shocked to receive a letter from Buhler in the summer of 1952 saying he'd flunked out.

"Nobody believed us," Brickman said. "Even our parents said, 'Oh, you must not have studied enough. Emory's a good school. They wouldn't do anything like that.'"

Buhler resigned in 1961, but Emory denied at the time that his leaving had anything to do with allegations of anti-Semitism. He went on to become dean of the dental school at the University of South Carolina and died in 1976.

Ashamed and confused, Brickman and his fellow students clammed up. Brickman went on to graduate with honors from the University of Tennessee's dental school and enjoyed a successful career in Atlanta.

Despite the lingering sting of discrimination, Brickman retained close ties to Emory, where he'd had a positive undergraduate experience. In 2006, he went to an exhibition at Emory celebrating the 30th anniversary of the school's Jewish studies department. He was surprised to see panels about the discrimination at the dental school. The exhibition's curator, Professor Eric Goldstein, told Brickman he thought the school was ready to face the issue.

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