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University spokeswoman Renata Nyul denied this. SJP’s suspension was due to the group’s repeated violations of university rules, she said.
“The issue here is not one of free speech or the exchange of disparate ideas,” Nyul said. “Instead, it is about holding every member of our community to the same standards, and addressing SJP’S non-compliance with longstanding policies to which all student organizations at Northeastern are required to adhere.”
Dorm distribution of fake eviction notices has become something of a staple in the playbook of pro-Palestinian groups around the country. But NEU is the first campus to penalize students for this tactic. Last year, the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee posted eviction notices on dorm doors. The year before, students at Florida Atlantic University and at Rutgers posted the same notices on their campuses. All three incidents were investigated. But none of the schools took any actions against the groups involved.
Silverglate said he thought the SJP students had a legal case notwithstanding Herbeck’s point that NEU was a private university, not a public or government entity.
“Under Massachusetts state law a private university (such as Northeastern) is obligated to treat its students with a certain minimal degree of fairness, and it seems to me that Northeastern fails this test,” he wrote in an email. “Further…as a liberal arts university purportedly devoted to academic freedom, [NEU] has an arguable implied contractual agreement with its students to grant them such freedom.”
Silverglate added: “Normally in American academia it is pro-Israel speech that is squelched and pro-Palestinian speech that is encouraged by faculty who have very little respect for free speech. But this case, the shoe is on the other foot.”
On March 18, some 200 students staged a protest on the edge of the NEU campus to protest the school’s action. They were careful not to step on campus property; NEU prohibits protests on its campus grounds from any unregistered groups that have not received prior approval.
Alan Dershowitz, the civil liberties lawyer and Harvard Law professor, declined to comment on the issue.
Contact Cara Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org