Sheherazad Jaafari.(Splash)
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Former Assad Aide Chillin’ in the Village

After Columbia controversy, Sheherazad Jaafari is at The New School

Adam Chandler
December 04, 2012
Sheherazad Jaafari.(Splash)

Communiqué, the predictably named newspaper for Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, has an update this week to the story of Sheherazad Jaafari. A former aide to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Jaafari was admitted to Columbia last spring with the help of luminaries like Barbara Walters.

David Fine, a Columbia senior, friend of Tablet, and lapsed Dallas Cowboys fan, wrote about the controversy for Tablet over the summer:

Emails leaked last month revealed that Barbara Walters had helped Jaafari, Assad’s former aide and daughter of Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, gain admittance into Columbia’s graduate School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), a kind of finishing school for future diplomats. But the controversy at Columbia isn’t about what strings Jaafari pulled. It’s about the fact that she worked closely with the Syrian president for over a year to help him reach out to and spin foreign press as his regime murdered over 15,000 of its own people and tortured countless others.

News of Jaafari’s admittance shocked various Syrian expatriates, many of whom have been working to raise awareness of Assad’s atrocities in the United States. A petition calling for “Columbia University to adhere to general ethical principles and rescind admission to Jaafari,” has been signed by over 1,800 people. The Syrian Expatriates Organization, a group made up mostly of academics and engineers, released a statement demanding that Columbia revoke Jaafari’s admittance right after news of her acceptance broke. “We feel like accepting an adviser to Assad into a prestigious American university is like accepting a kind of partner to a killer,” Sawsan Jabri, a spokesperson for the expatriate organization, told me. (Columbia hasn’t responded to the organization, according to Jabri.)

As it turns out, Columbia did not rescind Jaafari’s admission, but she chose not to go. According to Communiqué, Jaafari is now enrolled downtown at The New School, where she seems to enjoy the college life in Greenwich Village.

A university spokesman, Sam Biederman, declined to comment on her enrollment, citing privacy, but said that The New School evaluates candidates on the basis of their merits.

After a recent class on a Monday evening for her Graduate Program in International Affairs, some of Jaafari’s classmates at The New School said they had no knowledge of complaints about her admission.

One student, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid her resentment, said that many classmates did not know she had worked for the Syrian government, but a rumor about her identity had been circulating since orientation week last September.

“There is more gossip than real opposition to her enrollment,” added this student.

There you have it. The New School evaluates candidates on the basis of their merits. Being press aide to Assad must have taught her a lot.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.