Last Updated on October 26, 2023 by Robert C. Hoopes
Head of Florida’s University System Orders Disbandment of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) Chapters Alleged to Support Terrorism
In a controversial move, the head of Florida’s university system has ordered the immediate closure of campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), accusing them of supporting terrorism. The State University System Chancellor sent a letter to university presidents, instructing them to deactivate the two SJP chapters in the state.
The chancellor’s letter cited a “toolkit” released by SJP, which referred to an October 7 Hamas attack on Israel as “the resistance.” It also claimed that the national SJP organization has acknowledged its affiliation with the attack. Under Florida law, providing support to a designated terrorist organization is considered a felony.
Specifically, the University of Florida and the University of South Florida were directed to remove the SJP chapters immediately, according to the governor’s spokesperson. However, this action has drawn criticism from the targeted chapter at the University of Florida, who condemned the move as “disgraceful” and accused Governor DeSantis of disrespecting freedom of speech and political freedom.
Many believe that this decision could set a precedent for shutting down organizations that do not align with the governor’s ideals. Student organizations, including SJP, receive funding from student fees allocated by student governments. Understandably, universities have stated that they will evaluate their registered student organizations to check for any affiliation with SJP and determine if any members have engaged in unlawful conduct.
Although SJP has a presence at other Florida schools, only the chapters at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida are officially registered with their respective schools. This latest directive comes on the heels of a previous letter sent by the chancellor in October, alongside the state education commissioner, warning against actions that constituted antisemitism under Florida law.
While the move has gained support from some individuals and groups who view it as a necessary step to combat potential terrorist links, it has also been met with criticism. The American Association of University Professors has called on universities to protect academic freedom, emphasizing the importance of free speech. Furthermore, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression has labeled this decision as a threat to free speech.
Amidst the heated debate, it remains to be seen how universities and student organizations will navigate this complex issue, weighing concerns of safety and lawfulness against the principles of freedom of speech and political expression.