September 30, 2020
StandWithUs filed an amicus brief on Sept. 29 supporting Fordham University’s decision to decline to recognize the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
In 2016, Fordham Dean of Students Keith Eldredge wrote in an email to then-student Ahmad Awad, who would have led the chapter, “I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country, when these goals clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the university.” The university’s decision was challenged in court; in July 2019, a New York judge ruled in favor of SJP, arguing that the university’s rules “do not empower the Dean of Students to restrict the university’s recognition of a student club based on its potential for raising issues or taking political positions that might be controversial or unpopular with a segment of the university community.”
The university, with campuses in Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester County, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division in January 2020. In its brief to the court, StandWithUs argued that the courts have “limited” jurisdiction in reviewing private universities’ decisions and can’t use their own judgment to overrule a private university’s judgment. A court can only overrule a private university’s decision if the decision is arbitrary and capricious.
“Here, the Dean of Students specifically articulated the scope and nature of his review of SJP before making his final determination,” the brief stated. “He conferred with multiple campus stakeholders, including faculty, staff and students, and looked over SJP’s own stated goals and purposes. His actions were not arbitrary, capricious or in bad faith.”
The brief later argued that Eldredge’s actions before his decision show that he had conducted “a thorough review of the facts and was neither irrational or capricious.”
The court had essentially used “its own determination that SJP’s mission was consistent with Fordham’s own mission,” which is outside of the court’s purview, according to the brief. The brief also argued that because Fordham is a private school — it is the oldest Catholic university in the Northeast — students are not afforded the same free speech and due process rights that public school students have.
Additionally, the brief stated that Fordham’s decision not to recognize SJP is consistent with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, arguing that SJP’s activities fall under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism states, in part, that the demonization and delegitimization of Israel as well as subjecting the Jewish state to double standards is anti-Semitic.
“SJP regularly demonizes the State of Israel and denies Jews the right to self-determination, including through substantially disruptive conduct targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students,” the brief stated. “Clearly, permitting a student organization on campus which by its very constitution indicates an intention to interfere with the civil rights of Jewish students raises potential implications under Title VI.” As an example, the brief pointed to a 2016 article from The Tower, a publication of The Israel Project that is an Israel advocacy nonprofit, chronicling various examples of groups such as SJP alienating Jewish students from progressive spaces on campus.
StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement, “Fordham University is one of the first universities — if not the first — to recognize SJP’s bigotry for what it is and stand up against hate. We understand the administration’s decision to reject SJP as a university-recognized student organization. As a private university, Fordham should have the freedom to make such choices to protect what they perceive to be the well-being of its students and integrity of its campus, and the Fordham administration should be commended for their efforts to do that.”
Read the article here.