Emory Apologizes For Anti-Semitism Of Former Dental School Dean

10/11/2012 01:41 pm ET | Updated Oct 12, 2012

This week Emory University president James W. Wagner officially apologized to Jewish students who were wrongfully failed or otherwise harassed under the virulently anti-Semitism tenure of former dean John E. Buhler.

"No one believed us," former dental student Perry Brickman told The New York Times. "It couldn’t be this one-sided story. Emory was a great university, right? So we went off with the tail between our legs.”

Sixty years after Brickman was shocked to discover he had flunked out of Emory University's dental school, he and his classmates finally a sense of vindication.

More than 400 people packed an Emory ballroom Wednesday to hear the public apology and attend the premiere of a documentary, “From Silence to Recognition,” addressing Butler's reign at the now-defunct dental program.

Between 1948 to 1961, 65 percent of Jewish students were dismissed or forced to redo coursework, according to CNN. The school's application included a question asking prospective students to identify as either “Caucasian, Jew or Other.”

“I am sorry. We are sorry,” Wagner told the crowd, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Emory's acknowledgement of a shameful chapter swept under the rug for decades was applauded by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL was instrumental both in getting Butler dismissed and pushing for restitution. (Butler later became dean of the dental program at Medical University of South Carolina.)

"We are grateful to President Wagner for his forthright leadership in acknowledging and apologizing for a policy that has haunted many of the Jewish students throughout their long lives," Bill Nigut, ADL Southeast regional director, said in a statement.

"We are now hearing powerful, painful stories of how they came to doubt their own abilities, were viewed as failures by parents and friends, and had to rethink careers -- all because the dental school dean at the time was an anti-Semite and other administrators and faculty either ignored or abetted his prejudice."

The ADL also singled out Brickman for his help in the process. Brickman, who later graduated fourth in his class at the dental school at the University of Tennessee, interviewed dozens of Jewish students dismissed from Emory. Those interviews became the basis for the “From Silence to Recognition" documentary.

Past cases of anti-Semitism at elite universities have been reported before, notably by former Dartmouth president James Freedman. Freedman spoke out against the discrimination at Dartmouth, as well as a broader pattern of anti-Semitism in American higher education, referring to past barriers that attempted to block Jewish students and faculty from spots at Harvard, Yale and Columbia, according to a 2006 Dartmouth news release.

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