Former APA President Suspended by Columbia for 'Racist' Tweet

Alicia Ault

February 23, 2022

Columbia University today suspended Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, as chair of the Psychiatry Department at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and has removed him as Psychiatrist-in-Chief at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

The university had not confirmed the suspension to Medscape by deadline, but a letter from the school's leadership notifying staff of the suspension was posted on Twitter this morning by addiction psychiatrist Jeremy Kidd, MD, who is a colleague of Lieberman's at Columbia.

https://twitter.com/jeremykiddmd/status/1496530195939041280

The suspension comes in the wake of Lieberman's February 21 tweet that drew immediate backlash by Twitter users who characterized it as racist and misogynist.

Lieberman, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association, deleted the tweet, according to NewsOne, and his entire Twitter account was deleted soon after.

However, the tweet was captured by others, including Jack Turban, MD, a child psychiatry fellow at Stanford University. In Turban's retweet, Lieberman commented on a tweet about a black model, noting, "Whether a work of art or a freak of nature she's a beautiful sight to behold."

The response on Twitter was swift. "My ancestors would roll over in their graves if I refrained from commentary on how anti-Blackness shows up in 'compliments,' " tweeted Jessica Isom, MD, MPH, a psychiatrist at Yale University.

Turban speculated that there will be no consequences for Lieberman, adding in his tweet, "He will continue to make the hiring decisions (including for faculty candidates who are women of color)."

Apology Letter?

David Pagliaccio, a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, posted what appeared to be an apology letter to colleagues from Lieberman, although it could not be verified by Medscape Medical News.

In it, Lieberman was quoted as saying, "Yesterday, I tweeted from my personal account a message that was racist and sexist," adding that prejudices he didn't know he had held had been exposed, "and I’m deeply ashamed and very sorry.

"I've hurt many, and I am beginning to understand the work ahead to make needed personal changes and over time to regain your trust," Lieberman added.

Kidd called the suspension "absolutely the right move." He added in his tweet that it "is only the beginning of what Columbia must do to heal & earn the trust our patients & trainees place in us every day."

Columbia University did not respond by deadline to requests for comment. Lieberman also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Lieberman is also director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and was until today an advisory board member and frequent columnist for Medscape Psychiatry.

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including JAMA, Smithsonian.com, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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