Case Study

Fordham denies permission to form a Students for Justice in Palestine chapter


In 2016, a group of students at Fordham University sought permission to form a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter. The student government initially approved the request, but it was ultimately vetoed by the dean of students, who claimed that the group would cause “polarization” and that their support for a boycott of Israel “presents a barrier to open dialogue.” In 2017, five students involved in the formation of the group sued the university on First Amendment grounds, with Fordham arguing that, as a private university, they were not beholden to the First Amendment. In 2019, the students won the suit and the university was ordered to recognize the club. The court found that the university’s denial of the chapter was “arbitrary and capricious” and that Fordham violated its own rules in vetoing the application.

PEN America Analysis

The best way for universities to support the laudable ideals of open dialogue and mutual understanding is to allow students to freely participate in organizations focusing on a wide range of political issues, even highly controversial ones. Barring a student organization because university administrators are uncomfortable with its objectives denies students the opportunity to learn from each other and debate the pressing issues of our time, and universities should adopt a content-neutral approach to student clubs, unless they advocate or provide a forum for violence, discrimination, or harassment.

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