Mauricio Karchmer resigned from MIT in December.

Disgusted with administration’s response to antisemitism, Jewish professor leaves MIT

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Disgusted with administration’s response to antisemitism, Jewish professor leaves MIT

Mauricio Karchmer resigned from MIT in December.

Mauricio Karchmer had reached a breaking point. A Mexican Jew, he was a professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel had an adverse reverberation on campus that made him feel uncomfortable. Amid what he calls loud pro-Palestinian student protests and quiet responses from administrators to concerns for Jews and Israelis, Karchmer ultimately resigned on Dec. 13.

He has since become a visiting professor at Yeshiva University in New York, and shared his story in an evocatively titled article for The Free Press – “Why I Quit My Dream Job at MIT.” In an interview with the Jewish Journal, he recounted the unexpected turn of events in his career.

“Part of the reason I was interested in joining [Yeshiva] as a visiting faculty member is that I wanted to … help strengthen a little bit, in part, other universities where students can get a great education in a place they can be emotionally safe,” Karchmer said.

“There are moments in time when history invites us to participate in its very unfolding,” Yeshiva president Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman said in a statement. “This is such a moment, and Dr. Karchmer has shown by his voice, actions, and moral clarity how to be a leader who is a world-class professor in his field and a role model to us all.”

Born, raised, and educated in Mexico, Karchmer came to the United States for a master’s program at Harvard, then went to Israel for a doctorate in computer science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (His wife also pursued graduate study in Israel, going to law school at Tel Aviv University.) In the late 1980s, he accepted an assistant professorship at MIT, where he worked for about a half-decade. Then he pivoted to the financial services sector for over 20 years. In 2019, he returned to MIT as a lecturer in computer science.

He and his wife settled in the Boston area, first in Cambridge and then in Brookline, where they raised their children. They now live in Hull. Karchmer took the ferry to Boston’s Long Wharf twice a week on route to MIT, where he taught his Introduction to Algorithms class to several hundred students each semester.

In the wake of Oct. 7, Karchmer said, Israeli students at MIT faced a double dilemma – agonizing news from back home, and a campus climate that included lukewarm support from administrators and anti-Israel protests from classmates.

“Even before the first [Israeli] bombs dropped on Gaza,” he said, pro-Palestinian students “were already claiming genocide, already shouting intifada, already shouting ‘from the river to the sea,’ already celebrating the terror attacks as resistance.” He called this “very, very personal” for Israeli students who knew some of the slain or kidnapped.

As for the administration, Karchmer said, “The institute, in general, was very slow in offering sympathy. When they did offer support, it was very equivocal.”

To assess the situation firsthand, he attended a protest held by a student group called the Coalition Against Apartheid (CAA). He said that its leadership included students he knew, including one whom he had personally tutored.

“It was really hard to take,” Karchmer said, “the fact that I was teaching students who didn’t accept me as a Jew. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be comfortable showing a Star of David in a dark parking lot in front of them.”

He joined an email list of faculty members brainstorming ideas to support Jewish and Israeli students, and he sent emails to MIT president Sally Kornbluth and Chancellor Melissa Nobles. He said that they offered support. Kornbluth, who is Jewish, met with students for lunch. Yet Karchmer wished for more follow-up.

“I tried to get the institute to view the protests as an antisemitism problem,” he said. “It was falling on deaf ears.”

In Congress, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce summoned Kornbluth to testify on campus antisemitism with two other university presidents – Claudine Gay of Harvard and Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania. On Dec. 5, the trio gave testimony that some criticized as tepid.

“It was hard to watch,” Karchmer said, “a little bit embarrassing to watch. It was not clear whether they understood the questions, or the severity of what was going on [at] their campuses. They saw the problem only as one of free speech.”

By that point, he felt it was time to leave. Following final exams, he sent a letter of resignation to the computer science department. His official last day was Jan. 15 of this year.

Karchmer is keeping an eye on developments involving his former employer. Two Jewish students have sued MIT, alleging that the university did not take sufficient steps against antisemitism on campus, while the US House’s Committee on Education and the Workforce is asking MIT for documents relating to how university officials responded to antisemitism.

“Maybe now that the institute is under investigation and a target of a lawsuit, the institute will understand the gravity of its failure to respond,” he said in an email.

According to Karchmer, he had employment offers from many universities in Israel, plus the University of Texas at Austin and Yeshiva. He was intrigued by the dual program at Yeshiva, in which students start the day focusing on the sacred Jewish texts of the Torah and Talmud, then pursuing secular subjects in the afternoon.

“It was pretty amazing to see the work ethic of the students,” he said.

Karchmer is staying in Hull, but he’s grateful for the change of location in his professional life.

“I think that there is little one can do with the so-called elite universities,” he said. “In this day and age, one can find alternatives. It’s something for parents of prospective students to know.” Θ

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