Chair of the Columbia University Psychiatry Department Jeffrey Lieberman has been suspended from his position after posting a racist tweet.
Columbia announced the suspension — which also applies to his position as psychiatrist-in-chief at the Columbia-affiliated NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital — in an email sent to the Columbia University Irving Medical Center community on Feb. 23. In a tweet posted two days prior, Lieberman described Sudanese model Nyakim Gatwech as “whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold,” according to The New York Times.
Lieberman had also retweeted a tweet inaccurately stating that the Guinness Book of World Records named her as having the "darkest skin" — a metric which the Guinness Book of World Records does not record — prior to the suspension. According to the Columbia Spectator, Lieberman has since deleted his Twitter account.
Gatwech responded via Instagram, writing that “I can’t imagine it’s even possible to know who’s the lightest or darkest person on the planet!”
Prior to his suspension, Lieberman served as the Lawrence C. Kolb professor at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. The Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons was renamed in 2017 after 1950 College graduate Roy Vagelos donated $250 million to the medical school.
Throughout his career, Lieberman has conducted award-winning research in psychiatry, specifically focusing on schizophrenia. In 1998, Lieberman won the Strecker Award of the Department of Psychiatry at Penn.
In response to Lieberman’s tweets, Elle Lett — a current M.D. candidate at Penn and a postdoctoral fellow at the Penn Medicine Palliative and Advanced Illness and Research Center — wrote on Medium that “this person needs immediate remediation on stigmatizing language, and anti-racist psychiatric practice before patients should be exposed to him AND he should be supervised with minoritized patients, particularly Black women.”
The email did not provide an explanation for Lieberman’s suspension, according to the Spectator. Senior administrators at Columbia have met about the issue and plan to announce a new interim department chair soon.