By DONOVAN HARRELL
The University of Pittsburgh has spoken out against “inappropriate and offensive language” a visiting lecturer allegedly used in class comparing wearing masks while lecturing to being gassed in a Nazi concentration camp. The political science lecturer, Vasili Rukhadze, denies he made these comments.
First reported by The Pitt News, a Jewish student wrote a Reddit post describing the alleged classroom incident.
A lawyer representing Rukhadze said in an email: “Dr. Rukhadze absolutely and unequivocally denies that he compared wearing a mask to being poisoned by gas at Auschwitz. Dr. Rukhadze is an Asian-American from the country of Georgia whose own family was persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime during the Second World War. He has worked in academia for over two decades and never once, until last week, has an accusation like this ever been levied against him. He was stunned to the core of his being to hear of these false accusations.”
Pitt spokesman David Seldin said the University was aware of the alleged incident and had reached out to the professor and his students.
“The faculty member’s comments stand in direct opposition to our values and the appropriate offices have engaged with both the faculty member and students,” Seldin said. “As a University, we remain steadfastly committed to creating an inclusive environment that allows everyone to succeed, and events like this underscore how important this work continues to be. We encourage the Pitt community to report incidents like these, so the University can assess the situation and promptly respond.”
It’s not clear if the professor will face any disciplinary actions.
Another Reddit user claiming to be in one of Rukhadze’s classes posted the words of an email Rukhadze supposedly sent out to students afterward.
“I want to start with an apology to each one of you, if my humorous attempt in class today to complain about my mask blocking my air offended you in any way,” the email said.
“I definitely did not compare and will never compare mask-wearing to the greatest genocide in human history, and I certainly did not intend any offense against any individual or any group of people. I am surprised and hurt about this whole incident. I have been teaching at U.S. universities for years and never had any case of this nature.”
Rukhadze’s lawyer, Daniel Kobylinski, said in the email that his firm is “investigating how something so absolutely false ever made the light of day. Where appropriate, my firm intends to prosecute those who have unjustifiably besmirched our client's good name.”
This comes as multiple elected officials and politicians throughout the country have made remarks comparing COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates to the Holocaust.
A recent report from the American Jewish Committee found that there has been an increase in anti-Semitism in the United States. According to the report, one in four American Jewish people has been targeted by anti-Semitism over the past year, including 17 percent who were subjected to anti-Semitic remarks in person and 12 percent who experienced anti-Semitism online or on social media.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.
Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.