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Former APA president suspended by Columbia for ‘racist’ tweet


 

Columbia University has 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 this news organization by press time, but a letter from the school’s leadership notifying staff of the suspension was posted on Twitter the morning of Feb. 23 by addiction psychiatrist Jeremy Kidd, MD, who is a colleague of Dr. Lieberman’s at Columbia.

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

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

However, the tweet was captured by others, including Jack Turban, MD, a child psychiatry fellow at Stanford University. In Turban’s retweet, Dr. 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.

Dr. Turban speculated that there will be no consequences for Dr. 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 from Dr. Lieberman, although it could not be verified by this news organization.

In it, Dr. 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,” Dr. Lieberman added.

Dr. 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.”

This news organization’s queries to Columbia University and to Dr. Lieberman were not returned by press time.

Dr. Lieberman is also director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, was an advisory board member for Medscape Psychiatry and a frequent columnist for Medscape Medical News (sister organizations of MDedge.com), and was a consultant for Clinical Psychiatry.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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