NEW YORK - Hundreds of Columbia University teachers and students voiced outrage Wednesday over a noose found hanging from a black professor's office door, while police investigated if it was the work of disgruntled students or a colleague.
The 4-foot-long twine noose was found Tuesday on Madonna Constantine's door at Teachers College, a graduate school of education affiliated with Columbia. At a raucous rally Wednesday, Constantine said it was a "blatant act of racism."
"I'm upset that our community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident," she told the crowd. "Hanging the noose on my door reeks of cowardice and fear on many, many levels."
Police were testing the noose for DNA evidence, said Deputy Inspector Michael Osgood, commander of the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force.
Constantine, 44, told police there was "ill will" between her and another professor, a police official said. But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed, stressed that the dispute was only one possible lead, and that police were also looking into whether "disgruntled students, anyone upset with grades" were involved.
Teachers College held a community meeting to discuss the incident, which has roiled the Ivy League campus.
"This is an assault on African-Americans and therefore it is an assault on every one of us," university President Lee C. Bollinger said in a statement. "I know I speak on behalf of every member of our communities in condemning this horrible action."
The state Attorney General's office has sent lawyers from its civil rights bureau and investigators to look into the incident, said spokesman Jeffrey Lerner.
Derald Wing Sue, an adjunct professor at Teachers College who does research with Constantine, said he was at work Tuesday morning when another colleague spotted the noose hanging on the door. She wasn't in her office at the time.
Constantine has written about race, including a book entitled "Addressing Racism: Facilitating Cultural Competence in Mental Health and Educational Settings." Students said Constantine teaches a class on racial justice.
"Clearly, it was a symbolic act of racial hatred that was intended to intimidate," Sue said. "I felt outraged and angry that this was directed at such a close colleague and friend of mine."
Sue said he informed Constantine about the noose and she was devastated.
"She's doing fine," he said. "She's OK. I've talked to her. She's getting a lot of support."
An e-mail to Constantine was not immediately returned Wednesday, nor were calls to Constantine's office or the publicist for Teachers College.
As word of the incident spread, students and faculty reacted with sadness and anger.
"It's hard hearing about it," said student Danielle Green. "I'm not uncomfortable here but I'm not surprised. I mean, look at the world we live in. There is a lot of racism going on."
In the message to the college's 5,000 students and 150 faculty members explaining why police were on campus Tuesday, college president Susan H. Fuhrman said: "The Teachers College community and I deplore this hateful act, which violates every Teachers College and societal norm."
"You would think, Columbia being such a diverse campus and New York being such a diverse city, it shouldn't happen here," said student Mikayla Graham.
The Columbia investigation follows the hate-crime arrest on Sunday of a white woman accused of hanging a noose over a tree limb and threatening a black family living next door in Queens. The two incidents were "the first noose cases in recent memory" in the city, said Osgood, the task force commander.
Teachers College, founded in 1887, describes itself as the nation's oldest and largest graduate school of education.
According to its Web page, the college brought black teachers from the South to New York for training in the early part of the 20th century, when schools in the South were segregated.
The college has a diverse student body, including students from nearly 80 countries. The racial breakdown is 12 percent black, 11 percent Asian American and 7 percent Hispanic.
The discovery of the hangman's noose echoes other recent incidents involving the symbol reviled by many for its association with lynchings in the Old South.
Last year in Jena, La., three white students hung nooses from a big oak tree outside Jena High School. They were suspended but not prosecuted.
Racial tensions rose and a white student was beaten unconscious three months later. Recently, thousands of people protested what they consider to be the unfairly harsh prosecutions of six black students in the incident.
Columbia has been the site of other campus turmoil, most recently last month when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to speak, prompting protests by groups angry over his statements questioning the existence of the Holocaust.
Last fall, Columbia was in the spotlight when a group of students stormed a stage to silence a speech by Jim Gilchrist, the founder of a group opposed to illegal immigration.
Associated Press writers Tom Hays, Warren Levinson and Frank Eltman contributed to this story.