Emory University owns up to dental school’s anti-Semitic history and offers regrets
From 1948 to 1961, research and newly shared personal stories revealed anti-Jewish bias at the Emory School of Dentistry.
October 10th, 2012
03:02 PM ET

Emory University owns up to dental school’s anti-Semitic history and offers regrets

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Nearly 60 years after he was told he wasn’t good enough to be a dentist, retired orthodontist Art Burns is about to get the apology he deserves.

Burns, of Jacksonville, Florida, is one of many Jewish men who were dubbed failures by the now-defunct Emory School of Dentistry in Atlanta between 1948 and 1961. Though the university never admitted discrimination by the school’s then-dean and faculty, research by the Anti-Defamation League showed that 65% of the Jewish students at that time either flunked out or were forced to repeat coursework - up to a year of it - in order to stay.

“I was kicked out in 1953,” said Burns, who at 80 can still quote from the letter he received with the news: “Our staff is concerned that you don’t have the manual skills.”

The self-pronounced “certified obsessive compulsive,” who had prided himself on his lab handiwork - carving teeth and doing bridge and gold work to perfection - couldn’t believe it. Neither could his mother, who accused him of wasting his time, running around with the wrong crowd and chasing girls.

All these years later, there is no shame. Burns will stand proudly Wednesday evening with other former students, spouses and their children on Emory University’s campus, where top administrators - including President James W. Wagner - say they will own the past and issue a statement of regret. The dental school is no longer; it closed in the early 1990s.

After a private meeting with the university president, the invited guests will attend a public discussion during which an Emory-commissioned documentary, “From Silence to Recognition: Confronting Discrimination in Emory’s Dental School History,” will premiere.

It’s an effort in healing, one that was galvanized in large part by Burns’ one-time classmate Perry Brickman, who got his failure letter a year earlier than Burns. Brickman, 79, says he tracked down about 75 men who’d been affected in some way by the dental school’s policies at that time. Very few women were enrolled in the school; none was Jewish, as far as Brickman knows. Some of the video interviews he shot with his Flip video camera in recent years made it into the film, which was created by John Duke and David Hughes Duke of LivingStories.TV.

Last spring, Brickman and Eric Goldstein, a Jewish history professor at Emory, brought the personal stories - which said so much more than long-overlooked statistics - to the administration.

“It’s shameful, a blot on the institution’s history,” said Gary Hauk, Emory’s vice president and deputy to the president, who met with the men and helped spearhead the effort to make amends.

“I hope that the evening will give the former students a sense of belonging to the Emory community, a sense that they are a valued part of the university’s history,” Hauk said. “I also hope it will introduce them to an Emory whose people work hard to balance excellence of intellect with greatness of heart and character.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Discrimination • Education • Judaism

soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. Dr. Ari

    Aw, this was a very good post. Taking the time and actual effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don't manage to get nearly anything done.

    July 16, 2013 at 6:47 am |
  2. Bolingbrook

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be useful to read through articles from other writers and use something from other web sites.

    January 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  3. Just call me Lucifer

    Don't you know that besides being a carpenter, JC was a kick-ass dentist? He removed an impacted tooth for me out in the desert during our "chat". If you choose to be hatin' on the jews you got me to contend with.

    October 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  4. sareet

    thankyou, jessica ravitz, for including my grandfather, Dr. Norman Trieger in a photo in your article. This was not the only time my grandfather's life was affected to detriment because of anti-semitism, but it was the only time he received public apology for it. That night, he died. I think he was more ready to "go" after the closure this event provided for him. And thankyou for posting this on your blog. it's a wonderful example set by emory to bring people together years later for a healing opportunity.

    October 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Jessica Ravitz

      I loved meeting your grandfather. What a warm and wonderful man. I was so shocked and saddened to hear about his passing, and my heart goes out to your family during this difficult time... For anyone seeing this thread, Sareet was referring to the follow up piece I did to this story which can be seen here:
      Best wishes to you and yours,

      October 30, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  5. Fernando Carte

    Jews ...go home

    October 15, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  6. Fernando Carte

    jews go home

    October 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Your pathetic soul is mine for all eternity. I hope you like hot weather... forever.

      October 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  7. Dr John Baron @ www.drjohnbaron.com

    @Jesus Why should it matter to you what other people believe? You believe what you believe and we will believe what we believe no one is trying to convert you to a religion over a comment forum just saying.

    October 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  8. jo an

    Emery probably did discriminate but this is about going after Jewish MONEY!! ANY religious school in the South must be under great pressure from the Right Wing Christians down there.

    October 12, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    October 11, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!~..

      October 12, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • chuck

      I prayed to be handsome and rich. WHEN IS GOING TO HAPPEN 11111

      October 12, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but everything you have ever asserted regarding atheism and prayer is unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent truths is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent truths, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      October 13, 2012 at 7:04 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.