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Faces of discrimination
October 13th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Shining light on Emory school's past anti-Semitism prompts healing – and, for one man, questions

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) – Sixteen years after Susan Shulman Tessel lost her father, she sat on a Southern college campus Wednesday night and couldn't stop thinking about him. Surrounded by hundreds in a packed ballroom, she cried because he was missing. He should have been there with her and her mother. He deserved to be.

The late Irving Shulman was the only Jewish man to enter Emory University’s School of Dentistry in 1948. That was the same year someone else came to the school: the newly appointed dean, John E. Buhler.

After one academic year, Shulman flunked out. Buhler stayed on for 13 years, leading what some Jewish students would refer to as a “reign of terror.” Between 1948 and 1961, when Buhler left, 65% of Jewish students either failed out or were forced to repeat up to two years of coursework in the four-year program.

Those who lasted often paid. There were insults from professors such as “dirty Jew,” accusations by faculty of cheating and questions from the dean like, “Why do you Jews want to be dentists? You don't have it in your hands.”

Tessel's dad earned the distinction of being the first who failed.

Irving Shulman's widow, Irma Shulman-Weiner, and daughter Susan Shulman Tessel came to Emory last week because he couldn't.

His daughter, who lives in New York, heard him tell stories about the constant reminders of how awful he was. His molds of teeth  which he was so proud of  would either get crushed by hands or grades. Convinced he wasn't being treated fairly, a non-Jewish classmate agreed to turn in one of Shulman's molds under his name. Shulman's handiwork earned that student an A-minus.

“At least he knew he didn't make it up,” Tessel said.

Her late father gave up his dentistry dream and moved on to pharmacy school. But, she said, being at Emory last week would have helped him make sense of what had transpired. That's when 19 former Jewish dental students who had experienced that era came together and finally received the apology and recognition they had never thought possible.

“He didn't have the benefit of knowing he wasn't alone."

'A fraternity of silence'

Three years after Shulman was dubbed a failure at the end of his first academic year, Perry Brickman got his surprise letter from the dean telling him the same. Unlike Shulman, though, he had never been told he wasn't doing well.

Stunned. Embarrassed. Brickman was both. But he wasn't beaten down enough to give up on dentistry and was accepted to the dental school at the University of Tennessee, where he graduated fourth in his class. He would go on to have a 43-year career as a respected oral surgeon in Atlanta. He knew he was no failure. He also knew he wasn't alone. He was one of four Jewish men who entered the school in 1951; two years later they were all gone.

Brickman, 79, wasn't one to bring up the past. In 2000, he went to a reunion of his Jewish fraternity brothers from their Emory undergrad days. It turned out eight of the men in the room had been scarred by the same dental program, but it's not something they talked about. Brickman's wife, Shirley, would later start calling the former dental students “a fraternity of silence.”

It would be years before that would change.

In 2006, Emory University celebrated its 30th anniversary of Jewish studies. Eric Goldstein, a Jewish history professor, set up the exhibit to coincide with the event. He called it, “Jews of Emory: Faces of a Changing University.”

Most of the exhibit was a celebration of the campus’ Jewish life, Goldstein said, but a small section jumped out at Brickman.

He stared at statistics, a bar graph that illustrated what happened at the dental school between 1948 and 1961. The image had been featured in a chapter of “Some of My Best Friends...,” a book published by the Anti-Defamation League in the early 1960s. Like a skyscraper among short buildings, he said, the bar showing the numbers of Jews who failed out of the school or repeated coursework towered above all others. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.

The visual highlighted what Brickman always suspected about the dental school leadership and how that period was handled at Emory: “I wasn't a failure. They were a failure.”

He knew there were stories behind those numbers  not just of those who hadn't made it but also of those who did. Between the statistics and a conversation with a still-burdened classmate, Brickman set out on a path to find them all.

Making waves

A month before one man got his degree, he was forced to stand before the dean and assembled faculty for an hourlong dressing down. Later, one of the professors pulled the student aside and apologized, saying he had a wife and children to think about and had no choice but to play along.

Another said the day he got his diploma he felt like he'd been released from prison. A third repeated what a professor used to call him, "my little black sheep,” and then, bothered by the memory, muttered under his breath, “son of a bitch.”

These men said they were the "lucky" ones; the ones who actually made it through to earn degrees from the school. The 39 Jews who Brickman said enrolled during the Buhler era were all men; few women attended the school back then. Of that bunch, a dozen flunked out. Only three of those 12 became dentists. At least 15 of the Jewish dental students who lasted were forced to repeat coursework – and in some cases a year or two of study.

Art Burns, 80, of Jacksonville, Florida, flunked out in 1953 but went on to be first in his class at Temple University's dental school. The retired orthodontist recalled later bumping into the Emory dean in an Army base dental lab. Buhler looked at him and said, “Burns, I'd recognize that nose anywhere.”

Another who didn't fail – but who Buhler insisted didn't have the hands for dentistry – found himself being asked to treat dental school faculty throughout his senior year. Crowns, restorations, fillings. You name it, Ronald Goldstein did it.

“I must have had good enough hands for them,” said Goldstein, 78, of Atlanta, who lectures around the world, is considered a pioneer in his field and wrote the first comprehensive textbook on cosmetic dentistry.

The men were accepted to the school because admissions were handled by the broader university and not the dental school alone, said history professor Goldstein (no relation to Ronald). While quotas worked against Jews in many institutions at the time, the Emory dental school story was unique in that these students faced discrimination after they arrived.

Art Burns, with his wife, Olly, and daughter Marlēn, failed out of Emory's dental school but was first in his class of 131 students at Temple University.

The issues were talked about in small circles, but they weren’t discussed loudly.

What student would announce he'd flunked? What parents would talk about such news, especially in a community that put such emphasis on academic achievement? And this was Emory, a hometown liberal arts jewel many local Jews attended; who would criticize – or believe criticism about – such a place?

Beyond these hangups was the worry about backlash that permeated Atlanta's Jewish community. It was rooted in fears born of history and reality – Atlanta's infamous lynching of Leo Frank in 1913, the ongoing activity of the Ku Klux Klan, the 1958 bombing of the city's most prominent synagogue. Israel was still a fledgling nation. This was also the immediate post-Holocaust era, a time when Jewish people in America were just starting to understand the magnitude of what had happened abroad, said Deborah Lauter, the Anti-Defamation League's civil rights director.

“It was a real period of insecurity for the Jewish community, and that didn’t really shift 'til 1967,” after the Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbors, she said. “With a war victory came a newfound confidence of Jewish people.”

But a small handful of Atlanta Jews refused to let go of what was happening at the dental school. Art Levin, 95, paid attention to every snippet. Then the Southeast regional director of the ADL, Levin was determined to make Emory own up to and deal with the dental school's anti-Jewish bias. He collected graduation programs, which included lists of students in all four years, and studied how the Jewish surnames disappeared or were held back while their classmates moved ahead. He nurtured contacts who helped get him inside information from the registrar's office to back up his calculations. He wanted to make the case not by outing any victims but by presenting irrefutable facts.

When the local Jewish Community Relations Council wanted to tone down pressure on the university, Levin's response, as he stated in an Emory-commissioned documentary that premiered Wednesday evening: “Screw that. This guy has been torturing students for 10 years.”

Photos: Faces of discrimination

Levin, at the time, was “villified” by segments of the Jewish community for making waves, said ADL’s Lauter, a former Atlanta resident who, like Levin, did a stint as the organization's Southeast regional director. “But that's why we're here for people who face discrimination. Sometimes ADL has to be the tough guy. We take no prisoners in the fight against anti-Semitism.”

While Levin takes great satisfaction in knowing the story is finally getting public acknowledgement, Lauter said it's “bittersweet” for him. “He did feel stung by the whole experience." In 1962, after nine years in his position, he left the world of Jewish community work.

Levin, who now lives in Florida and is hard of hearing, was not able to be interviewed for this story.

A form devised by Buhler, which at the top asked students to check a box – Caucasian, Jewish or other (Emory was not racially integrated at the time) – ended up being his downfall, many say. The university president, S. Walter Martin, had been dismissive of the concerns Levin and some others raised. So when Martin was out of town, Levin brought a copy of the form to Judson “Jake” Ward, the dean of faculty, and Ward grew incensed. He marched down to see Buhler, who resigned soon after.

Emory's president still refused to acknowledge what had been going on and wrote off Buhler’s resignation as coincidental. Martin even insisted to local press, Goldstein said, that Buhler could have stayed at the dental school as long as he wanted.

With the dean gone, Atlanta's Jewish community essentially closed the book and put it away.

Not the man he knew

That book only recently opened for the former dean's son.

A sister-in-law sent John E. Buhler Jr., 65, a copy of a recent story in the The New York Times about the episode. What he read “caught me completely off guard,” he said. “I was completely unaware of that situation.”

He was a kid when his father landed at Emory and always believed politics in academia prompted his departure, nothing more. Everything he ever knew about his father, who died on Easter Sunday in 1976, belied what is being discussed now.

The former dean of Emory's dental school, John E. Buhler, was a different man to Jewish students than he was to his son.

The younger Buhler, a retired oral surgeon living in Huntington, Indiana, said he grew up with a man who cared about “helping kids stay in school and not throwing them out of school.” When he got into the field himself, he proudly watched how former students sought out his father at conferences, showering him with gratitude. One even boasted that he had named his child after Buhler.

“It just sort of blows me away. … He did so many positive things for dentistry and students,” the younger Buhler said. “It's hard to believe.”

Trying to make sense of it all, Buhler Jr.'s daughter sent her father an article that appeared in The Spartanburg Herald in South Carolina in 1964. It was written soon after the older Buhler assumed the dean’s post at the new dental school of what was then known as the Medical College of South Carolina – and after the Jewish community there weighed in with concerns about past anti-Semitism, demanding his appointment be rescinded.

The 1964 article quoted the chairman of the Medical College's board of trustees defending Buhler, saying he was recommended for the new position after a committee concluded the Emory charges were “not as serious as painted at one time."

The former dean's namesake doesn't remember his father ever saying a derogatory word about Jewish people. In fact, he's quick to point out that when the family lived in Atlanta, some of his parents' closest friends were Jewish.

These sorts of claims get former students like Brickman, who led the charge to humanize the dental school’s history, riled up. He has collected too many stories and seen too many documents, including incriminating notes written by Buhler himself, to call the former dean anything but an anti-Semite.

But for Buhler Jr., none of this adds up. Really, how can it?

“If this situation did exist, it was certainly out of character of the man I knew,” he wrote CNN the morning after the Emory event. “If indeed these events did occur, I feel badly for the individuals involved. Last night’s event might have made them feel better but didn't compensate for their injury.”

I am sorry. We are sorry.’

Facing its history is something Emory isn’t afraid to do.

In 2011, it issued a statement of regret for the school's involvement with slavery. The Southern institution once had slave laborers on campus and faculty members who owned slaves.

Earlier this year, Emory fessed up to fudging data to boost its ranking.

Meantime, the university boasts a Center for Ethics, campus dialogues on matters like race, sexuality and gender, and has long-proven its support for Jewish studies and community. It has 20 full-time faculty members dedicated to the field, including world-renowned Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt.

The school seemed ripe for the resurfacing of the dental school's history, which is why Goldstein, the Jewish history professor, placed a call last spring to Gary Hauk, Emory's vice president and deputy to the president. He said he had a friend Hauk needed to meet.

With testimonies he had recorded with his Flip camera, Brickman showed Hauk videos of men in their 70s and 80s, their negative Emory dental school experience still etched in their faces and emotions. Hauk didn't need convincing that something needed to be done.

A documentary incorporating Brickman's footage was commissioned, resulting in “From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory's Dental School History.” A plan was developed to invite the former students, their families and their widows to come together on campus for an apology that was half a century overdue.

What had happened to them at the dental school, which closed in the early 1990s for unrelated reasons, had never been formally acknowledged. It was time.

Blue ribbons were strung along aisles to reserve seats for the special guests, who first met privately with Emory President James W. Wagner. The men, some of whom hadn't returned to Emory since the day they left, arrived with family members from all over the country. Many went on to become great successes in dentistry. Those who gave up that dream excelled as physicians, lawyers, CPAs and computer experts. One man who flunked out tried his hand at painting, wanting to prove he had the manual skills the dean said he lacked; he won art show awards.

The experience had been a guarded secret for some – a chapter in life they hid from parents, friends, future spouses and their children. One woman in attendance said she had only learned the day before that her father failed out of Emory. For other former students, their time at Emory haunted them. One of their daughters – who refused even years later to apply to Emory when she went to dental school – dubbed herself and others like her “children of survivors,” a term often linked to the Holocaust. An 18-year-old man, who is gay and faced plenty of bullying, realized he could relate to the grandfather sitting next to him in new ways.

Widows and children of deceased former students showed up for those who didn't live long enough to see this day. One man, who was young when his father died, came to hear stories no one else in his life could tell.

All around them, as they took their seats, the ballroom filled. A standing-room-only crowd of hundreds came out to recognize them. Here, any shame from the past was lifted. Instead, these men were the picture of courage and worthy of respect – and that long-awaited apology.

“Institutions – universities – are as fallible as the human beings who populate them, and like individuals, universities need to remind themselves frequently of the principles they want to live by,” President Wagner said. “The discrimination against Jewish dental students undermined the academic integrity of the dental school and ultimately of Emory. … I am sorry. We are sorry.”

The night, which would end with a special dinner for this no-longer-silent fraternity, included a tribute to Brickman, who was called to the stage.

Norman Trieger traveled last week from New York to hear Emory's apology for and acknowledgement of past anti-Semitism. On Saturday, he passed away.

His wife, surrounded by family, clung to a tissue and dabbed her eyes. A daughter clutched her mother’s hand. A son looked up at his dad and beamed.

Brickman never did this for the Emory History Maker medal Wagner strung around his neck. Nor did he do this for the citation read to honor his work.

For him, this was a journey of discovery - one he took with the faces behind the numbers. With him that night were these men and their families, as well as the university he still loved.

Throughout the evening, and long after dinner ended, he saw tears, camaraderie, even laughter from some of the very men he feared were no longer capable of smiling.

All of this, he hoped, signaled what mattered most: Healing.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Discrimination • Education • Judaism • Prejudice

soundoff (1,537 Responses)
  1. antijew

    WASHINGTON, GEORGE, in Maxims of George Washington by A. A. Appleton & Co.
    "They (the Jews) work more effectively against us, than the enemy's armies. They are a hundred times more dangerous to our liberties and the great cause we are engaged in... It is much to be lamented that each state, long ago, has not hunted them down as pest to society and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America."

    October 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • End Religion

      debunked

      http://www.snopes.com/quotes/washington/enemies.asp

      October 15, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  2. STOP MURDER OF CHILDREN , Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

    hindu racist Jew's are blood brother's of hindu, racist Nazi's, what they did to each other is their own problem, and Muslim have right to give them back, what hindu Jew's, terrorist secular's have done to Muslim's, hinduism, terrorism, their own medicine. hindu, ignorant. if hindu Jew's, terrorist secular s do not like their medicine, hinduism, terrorism, get out of Muslim land's.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Theen Allah Fat Mullah (the original hinduism source.....)

      Hey Jr, did you see your dog Dad, Achmed the dead terrorist singing "Jingle Bombs"? Nooooo!!! Here click on the video below, it's really funny.
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wskT6YfVB6E&w=640&h=390]

      October 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  3. antijew

    MARIA THERESA, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia (1771 – 1789)
    "Henceforth no Jew, no matter under what name, will be allowed to remain here without my written permission. I know of no other troublesome pest within the state than this race, which impoverished the people by their fraud, usury and money-lending and commits all deeds which an honorable man despises. Subsequently they have to be removed and excluded from here as much as possible."

    October 15, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  4. antijew

    ST. JOHN, Gospel of St. John VII:1
    "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry because the Jews sought to kill him."

    if jesus couldn't please them, is it worth tolerating their existance at all? think about it

    October 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Sam235

      Love your enemy.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Jayy

      I have a feeling you're a jew saying that lol "
      "Dont hate me"

      October 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • End Religion

      your preoccupation with hate and religion teaches us that:
      1) all religion is a fraud
      2) religion that purports love and tolerance really only serves as a vehicle for hate and divisiveness
      3) you are the worst kind of human

      October 15, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  5. JimmyD

    Sorry to say byt Mr. Brickman looks like someone who nurtured bitterness and hate all these years.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  6. antijew

    ST. JUSTIN, martyr stated in 116 A. D.
    "The Jews were behind all the persecutions of the Christians. They wandered through the country everywhere hating and undermining the Christian faith."

    October 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  7. Ed M.

    Let's worry more about the present anti-semitism.

    Soon to be backed by fanatic theocratic nuclear fission.

    Can you say: "The 12th Imam"?

    October 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  8. dickgosinya

    II see AIPAC, JDL and IDF are hard at work making us feel sorry for Jews. it isn't enough that our entire MIddle Eastern policy revolves around it or the banks or Wall Street, we need to know about Emory University. Get over it. EVERYBODY has some sad story about college. i

    October 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • healer

      dickgosinya – I agree; sickening haters and manipulators!

      October 15, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  9. antijew

    DIODORUS SICULUS. First century Greek historian.Observed that Jews treated other people as enemies and inferiors.
    "Usury" is the practice of lending money at excessive interest rates. This has for centuries caused great misery and poverty for Gentiles. It has brought strong condemnation of the Jews!

    October 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  10. ROFLKOPTER

    I don't give a flying eff what they've gone thru.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  11. Barry Obama

    Emory is one of the places where they still cling to their guns and bibles

    October 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Sam235

      Actually Obama said that about the anti-Slave UNION state of Pennsylvania

      October 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  12. Josef Mengele, MD

    Anti-semitism at Emory is all hogwash !

    October 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  13. wilypagan

    There is a difference between the Jews who were attacked in the Holocaust and the Islamists who now wish to wipe out Western civilization. The Jews never attempted to impose their religious law on entire countries, unlike the Islamists. Most Islamic majority countries impose Shariah law, under which women, gays and religious minorities are discriminated against to the point of criminal prosecution. Don't compare the Jews to Islamists. It is like comparing a rose to a noxious weed.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • antijew

      i dont think anyones trying to impose religion on you jew;bags. you can convert to any religion you want but that doesn't mean you wont pay for the crimes already done.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Jayy

      Saudi Arabia is the only fully imposed Sharia Law country in the world. Go search what sharia law is anyways.

      Jews that died and "Islamists" cannot be compared. Jews and Muslims, yes. 2 religious groups, not a government and a people.
      And they do ton wish "to wipe out western civilization". That makes no sense. By killing? By erasing history? Paranoia.

      I have muslim friends. i can tell you that they are human and do not "hate" women. Media seems that way, and you are foolish to buy all of what O'Reilley tells you.

      What a shame.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • crappygovernment

      C'mon Totsky, your relatives made Christianity illegal in Russia when they took it over. Anti-semitism was punishable by death there as well.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Jayy

      and speaking of jews imposing, do you really think americans are running america?

      ... think

      October 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • STOP MURDER OF CHILDREN , Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

      hindu racist Jew's are blood brother's of hindu, racist Nazi's, what they did to each other is their own problem, and Muslim have right to give them back, what hindu Jew's, terrorist secular's have done to Muslim's, hinduism, terrorism, their own medicine. hindu, ignorant.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Theen Allah Fat Mullah (the original hinduism source.....)

      TERRORIST ALERT! ALERT!

      October 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  14. ted greene

    during my entire life ..my best friends have been "Jews" and I am Afro American..god bless you all

    October 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • crappygovernment

      did they tell about how they ran the slave trade? You were an inside joke to them!

      October 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Ekaterina Kaverina

      Cheers, Ted Greene. Decent people of all descriptions can work it out together. Haters are best ignored.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • jjk

      ted greene– oh yes you are who you say you are ;)

      October 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Ekaverinka Bibier

      Haha, we all know who are the biggest haters, the true masters of hate and revenge

      October 15, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Jayy

      Uh, kat, dont know what you mean, but,

      Revenge has to have an agreession. To get back at something. Thats the definition. Israel are the biggest agressors in the world today. Forget revenge – its sparked by THAT.

      Pizdiet

      October 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  15. antijew

    Hey, lets add "shrunken heads" and " human skin lampshades" and " human soap" LOL

    this is what jews were presenting as evidence against the germans. utter bs, like the anne frank diarrhiya which at least half was written in ballpoint pen and IT WASNT AVAILABLE DURING TIME OF BSTRD ANNE FRANK

    October 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Ekaterina Kaverina

      Antisemite, are you paid for trolling.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  16. PhillyCoder

    The media likes to post stories like this just because they know it'll get lots of hits from angry people. We can't help it if other people write articles about us. We're in the middle of an election and this is the top story on CNN?

    I honestly wish there were less stories about my people, they just bring out the crazies and make it look like we need attention. We don't, we just wanna take care of our families like everyone else. My grandfather had to deal with quotas to get into med school since he was Jewish, it was normal back then unfortunately – not just for Jews but also Catholics.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  17. Awaken

    Jews are successful because they put money in the right businesses. Before Europeans, it was Jews who traveled the world and invested their time in others' techniques such as from trading precious metals to landing properties for interest. In ancient times, they took bigger business/trading risks than most of the other cultures did and their resources had been very collective. I must say Brits learned from them only.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  18. crappygovernment

    Tikkun Olam is collapsing rapidly in America.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  19. Watcher

    My neice wanted to go to Emery. I asked her why she was aiming so low. I implored her to go to a better university and she is the better for it in my opinion.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  20. antijew

    Jews facing discrimination? This story is the biggest joke since holohoax.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Anth

      exactly

      October 15, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Watcher

      You are the reason I am driven to make millions. HAve fun in your hovel PUNK.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • theoldfool1950

      Have you ever asked yourself why you say things like this? What is it inside of you that would make you say things like this. It's time to get off the sofa and do something with your life. Your open bigotry and spouting of nonsense makes you even smaller than you are.

      October 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.