Letter to the Editor: “Confusion and disappointment over human rights activists being disciplined at Florida Atlantic University”

Hal Smith

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The following letter was sent to FAU President Dennis Crudele, then forwarded to the University Press by it’s author.

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Dear Florida Atlantic University President Dennis J. Crudele,

Today I was surprised to read in the University Press about the university’s decision to severely discipline five university students who participated in human rights activism at the university. Consequently I wish to express my confusion and disappointment over the university’s disciplinary measures against the students.

According to the article, called “FAU Students for Justice in Palestine Statement”, one of the five students objected and several showed a banner saying “war criminal.” They did this during a talk by an Israeli officer who promoted military attacks that killed hundreds of children and which Amnesty International found to be war crimes. (See eg.“Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel a recipe for further civilian suffering”, Amnesty International, July 2, 2009). In fact, some FAU students have relatives who were killed during the attacks, making their objections quite understandable. While a university has a concern to keep order, one person speaking out of turn is a relatively minor issue, while the students’ expression of human rights views and decision to leave a speech with which they disagree is an important expression of free speech.

What was particularly confusing was that while the university and the students signed an agreements that they have not been found responsible for any charges, the university imposed stiff penalties, placing students on indefinite probation, barring them from holding positions in associations, requiring 25 hours of community service, and requiring them to take a course on tolerance created by the Anti-Defamation League.

It is strange that such stiff penalties can be levied against students when the university states that it has not found them to have done anything wrong. It is also confusing why they would be required to take a course in racial tolerance, when in fact the students’ objection was against war crimes, rather than racial equality. Considering that the students’ position is in harmony with that of Amnesty International, they may even qualify to be valued guest speakers for courses on human rights. Consequently, I urge you to reconsider your decision to penalize students for speaking out on human rights issues.

Yours sincerely,

Hal Smith, Esq.
Philadelphia, PA
Member of National Lawyers Guild

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