The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Columbia Suspends Students for Justice in Palestine + Jewish Voice for Peace for Threats and Holding Unauthorized Event


From a statement today:

Columbia University is suspending Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as official student groups through the end of the fall term. This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.

Suspension means the two groups will not be eligible to hold events on campus or receive University funding.  Lifting the suspension will be contingent on the two groups demonstrating a commitment to compliance with University policies and engaging in consultations at a group leadership level with University officials.

Like all student groups, SJP and JVP are required to abide by University policies and procedures. This ensures both the safety of our community and that core University activities can be conducted without disruption. During this especially charged time on our campus, we are strongly committed to giving space to student groups to participate in debate, advocacy, and protest. This relies on community members abiding by the rules and cooperating with University administrators who have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.

Whether the suspension was proper or not, given Columbia's voluntary embrace of free speech principles, of course turns on whether the "rhetoric" was indeed "threatening" and constituted "intimidation," and on the nature of the "unauthorized event." (It also turns on whether the rhetoric was endorsed by rally organizers or just came from some attendees.) I'm sorry that the statement didn't offer the details, but I e-mailed the Columbia news office and will let you know what I get in response. If any of you can point me to more factual details, I'd love to see them.

Here's a story from Columbia Spectator (Chris Mendell) on what might be the relevant rally, but it's not clear whether these are precisely the items that led to the suspension:

University event policy generally requires groups to apply for permits at least 10 days in advance of any demonstration or protest in order to hold events on school grounds.

A speaker at the rally, who did not disclose their name, said the University had offered to reduce that timeline to three to five business days, a policy the speaker demanded be put into writing.

At one point during the rally, tensions rose when an unidentified individual began screaming antisemitic and anti-Black statements, then attempted to instigate fights with numerous students. The individual climbed over chains blocking off a grass area and continued yelling obscenities.

Students at the walkout booed the unidentified individual, and five confronted the individual while the speaker on the megaphone denounced antisemitism….

[One student, Mohsen Mahdawi] directly denounced the individual, saying, "Shame on the person who called [for] 'death to Jews,'" which broke out into chants of "shame on you" from the demonstrators….

Protesters then staged a die-in, where demonstrators laid down across Low Plaza to symbolize the Palestinian lives that have been lost since the conflict began on Oct. 7.

UPDATE [11/10/2023, 3:30 pm]: The Columbia Spectator (Sarah Huddleston & Chris Mendell) reports on the suspensions, but doesn't add significant details.