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Censorship on campus?

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Northeastern U. Duel Over Pro-Palestinian Group Mirrors Nationwide Fight

Was Administration Right To Punish Dorm ‘Eviction’ Notices?

Angry Voices: Students demand Northeastern University reinstate a pro-Palestinian student group that was suspended for slipping mock eviction notices under classmates dorm room doors.

Published March 19, 2014.

Boston Like Alan Dershowitz, his former teacher and Harvard Law School colleague, Boston attorney Harvey Silverglate is both a strong supporter of Israel and a passionate free speech advocate. So Silverglate had two reactions when Northeastern University unceremoniously suspended its campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

I actually think that the [SJP] students are right, he told the Forward, referring to their contention that they had just been exercising their legitimate free speech rights. I say that despite the fact that I have very strong feelings about the enormously disturbing criticism of Israel that has erupted all around the world, and most especially in academia.

But according to Professor Dale Herbeck, chair of Northeasterns Communications Department, the school was well within its rights when it sanctioned the student group for slipping mock eviction notices under the doors of student residents. The notices, clearly marked as fake, mimic the eviction notices the group says the Israeli government posts regularly on Palestinian homes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The First Amendment only protects you from the government infringing on free speech, said Herbeck, an expert on freedom of expression and communication law. But people lose these free speech claims all the time when youre dealing with private entities.As a private university with a private campus, [NEU] has a right to limit who gets to speak in that space.

The clash of these two free-speech experts encapsulates in a nutshell the larger clash that is mushrooming on campuses nationwide about the proper boundaries of protest when it comes to the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. That debate sharpened markedly in early March, thanks to SJPs suspension at Boston-based Northeastern and a separate incident involving SJP at Barnard College in New York.

The Northeastern administration suspended its student SJP chapter on March 7, a few weeks after the group slipped their fake eviction notices under dorm room doors across the campus. The university said the notices alarmed and intimidated students.

On March 10, the administration at Barnard College, a liberal arts school closely affiliated with Columbia University, removed with no prior notice an SJP banner on the campus main building that it had previously approved. The banner, which read Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine, came down after LionPAC, Columbias pro-Israel student organization, complained to the administration about it. The SJP banner showed a map of Israel and the occupied territories as one, undifferentiated entity. The Barnard administration later announced that no signs of a political nature could be posted henceforth by any group on the building.

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Northeastern U. Duel Over Pro-Palestinian Group Mirrors Nationwide Fight

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Free speech at Barnard, but only when its easy

Barnard’s selection of Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, as commencement speaker and its decision to remove a preapproved Students for Justice in Palestine banner from Barnard Hall reveal a double standard in Barnards commitment to free speech. Both actions have sparked debate and furor about the issues themselves, but the disparity in Barnards treatment of political speech and the idea of endorsing speech should be the real controversy.

I have always deeply admired Barnard College, and frequently pointed to its strong and simultaneous commitment to its students well-being and independence as a model for other undergraduate institutions. It is for this reason that I chose to give to the Barnard 2012 Senior Fund, instead of my own schools senior fund, and why I plan to give to Barnards annual fund far into the future. However, Barnards actions this week have been deeply disappointing.

Although SJP went through existing administrative procedure to hang a banner that did not advocate violence, the banner was quickly removed by the administration. This was done out of concern that Barnard was endorsing the banners political message, due its proximity to an official Barnard banner and its prominence on the exterior of Barnard Hall. The administrations action was in response to student groups and student leaders discomfort, which Seffi Kogen wrote about in an op-ed (Politicized banners on Barnard Hall hurt community, March 12).

Barnards choice of Richards, the head of the nations largest abortion provider, as commencement speaker caused similar controversy. Kate Christensen, president of the Columbia College Republicans, noted in an op-ed that some students found the selection truly devastating and an experience of profound alienation. However, rather than demanding that Barnard disinvite Richards, Christensen appropriately voiced her opposition in an op-ed (Barnard College commencement speaker alienates many in community, March 10). Barnard, for its part, does not seem too worried that people will think having Richards speak at a Barnard-festooned podium willconvey an endorsementof Richards political positions. Thats because I think Barnard is smart enough to know that serving as a venue for ideas is not necessarily the same as endorsing those ideas. Barnard administrators also know that having political speech next to your logo or banner does not in and of itself constitute an endorsement. Barnard is choosing to hide behind that excuse in the case of SJP, even though its behavior in selecting Richards as speaker seems to demonstrate that it knows better.

As for the students who prodded the administrators to remove the banner, if LionPAC and students like Seffi Kogen disagreed with or felt uncomfortable with the message they interpreted in SJPs banner, the appropriate response would not have been an attempt to remove the banner, but a submission of their own banner that expressed their feelings and beliefs, which could also be hung outside Barnard Hall flanking the Barnard banner.

That, ultimately, is how students should express their opposition to an instance of political speech in an institution that values free speech. Students should not work to get speech they disagree with taken down, regardless of how close to a Barnard banner it is. LionPAC and Hillel should know this, being, along with SJP, members of the Student Governing Boardthe governing board for values-oriented student groups that is dedicated to preserving free speech and student groups rights to self-governance.

A little over a year ago, Hillel alleged that SJP was taking down Hillels posters about Israel. They filed a formal complaint about the incident through SGB’s judicial process, so I know that Hillel is deeply familiar with just how traumatizing it can be to have a poster taken down. But the point here is not to question the authenticity or validity of that emotional responserather, emotional responses simply shouldn’t be considered in decisions about permitting political speech.

So why the disconnect between Barnards actions regarding SJP and its invitation to Richards? My guess is that Barnard administrators know that freedom of speech for a pro-choice advocate is a lot easier to sell to an all-female student body than it is to sell freedom of speech for a banner advocating justice in Palestine to a student body which is somewhere between 33 and 45 percent Jewish and fairly pro-Israel.

Ultimately, Barnard made a choice that it is in favor of freedom of speech, but only when it is speech that is not too unpopular with its students (or worse, alumni donors). And that, of course, isnt really freedom of speech at all.

Barry Weinberg is a 2012 graduate of Columbia College. He is the former chair of the Student Governing Board.

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Free speech at Barnard, but only when its easy

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SJP banner advertising Israel Apartheid week removed from Barnard Hall

Updated: Tuesday, 6:09 p.m.

After pushback from some students, Barnard administrators have removed a banner with the wordsStand for Justice, Stand for Palestinethat hung Monday on the front of Barnard Hall.

The bannerwhich also had a drawing ofIsrael, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip all colored green,without borderswas advertising Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine’s annual Israeli Apartheid week, which will last until March 14.

In an email to LionPAC, which the pro-Israel student group posted on its Facebook at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Barnard president Debora Spar said,We are removing the banner fromBarnard Hall at this time and will be reexamining our policy for student banners going forward.

Via Seffi Kogen’s public Facebook post

Spar said that it has been a long-standing policy to allow student groups to hang banners promoting their events outside Barnard Hall.

However, we understand your concern that in hanging the C-SJP banner next to the official Barnard College banner it inadvertently gave the impression that the College sanctions and supports these events,Spar wrote.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, LionPAC emphasized that hanging a banner advocating any political message gives the sense that Barnard publicly endorses the message.

We respect that SJP followed the proper protocols to book the banner space, and we recognize their respect for the policy, the statement said. We believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group.

Barnard Dean Avis Hinksonreleased a statementTuesday almost identical to Spar’s email.

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SJP banner advertising Israel Apartheid week removed from Barnard Hall

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Students for Justince in Palestine banner advertising Israel Apartheid week removed from Barnard Hall

Updated: Tuesday, 6:09 p.m.

After pushback from some students, Barnard administrators have removed a banner with the wordsStand for Justice, Stand for Palestinethat hung Monday on the front of Barnard Hall.

The bannerwhich also had a drawing ofIsrael, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip all colored green,without borderswas advertising Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine’s annual Israeli Apartheid week, which will last until March 14.

In an email to LionPAC, which the pro-Israel student group posted on its Facebook at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Barnard president Debora Spar said,We are removing the banner fromBarnard Hall at this time and will be reexamining our policy for student banners going forward.

Via Seffi Kogen’s public Facebook post

Spar said that it has been a long-standing policy to allow student groups to hang banners promoting their events outside Barnard Hall.

However, we understand your concern that in hanging the C-SJP banner next to the official Barnard College banner it inadvertently gave the impression that the College sanctions and supports these events,Spar wrote.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, LionPAC emphasized that hanging a banner advocating any political message gives the sense that Barnard publicly endorses the message.

We respect that SJP followed the proper protocols to book the banner space, and we recognize their respect for the policy, the statement said. We believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group.

Barnard Dean Avis Hinksonreleased a statementTuesday almost identical to Spar’s email.

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Students for Justince in Palestine banner advertising Israel Apartheid week removed from Barnard Hall

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