NEW YORK, Jan. 25, 2017—Fordham University is refusing to recognize a prospective chapter of the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on the basis of the group’s political beliefs. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) are calling on Fordham University to reverse the university’s rejection of SJP and reaffirm to students that the university will not renege on its free speech promises.
On November 17, 2016, the Fordham United Student Government (USG) Senate and Executive Board approved Students for Justice in Palestine’s application for recognition, noting that SJP “fulfills a need for open discussion and demonstrates that Fordham is a place that exemplifies diversity of thought.”
But after USG’s approval, Dean of Students Keith Eldredge notified SJP members that he wanted to review the group’s status before finalizing official recognition. On December 22, Eldredge informed the students that he would not grant SJP official recognition, writing that he “cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country” and that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … often leads to polarization rather than dialogue.” He also notified them that his decision could not be appealed.
“Fordham would be a bleak, quiet place if the university sought to eliminate ‘polarizing’ debates from campus,” said FIRE Program Officer Sarah McLaughlin. “In fact, students are often inspired to engage in advocacy or join clubs specifically because the issues they care about are contentious and in need of defense or representation.”
In response to media attention spurred by a January 17 letter from Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of SJP, Fordham officials released a statement reaffirming Eldredge’s decision, claiming “[t]he narrowness of Students for Justice in Palestine’s political focus makes it more akin to a lobbying group than a student club.”
Viewpoint-based refusals to recognize student groups are all too common on campuses nationwide. FIRE has intervened in many such situations, taking action on behalf of an NAACP chapter at Catholic University of America, a Turning Point USA chapter at Northwestern University, pro-life groups at Johns Hopkins University and Gonzaga University, a group opposed to gay marriage at Notre Dame, an LGBT student group at Hampton University, and Christian groups at Princeton University and Pace University, among others.
“Fordham’s policies rightly state that ‘[t]he expression of controversial ideas and differing views is a vital part of University discourse,’” said McLaughlin. “Fordham should not engage in viewpoint discrimination when students are attempting to take part in exactly the kinds of discourse the university claims to value.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), founded in 1974, is an alliance of over 50 national nonprofit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups dedicated to promoting the right to free speech.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Joseph Michael McShane, President, Fordham University; 718-817-3000; email@example.com
Keith Eldredge, Dean of Students, Fordham University; 212-636-6250; firstname.lastname@example.org