Max Geller is a 2nd year law student at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachussetts. He is also one of the senior members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) - an advocacy group for the rights of the Palestinians. Recently, their group was suspended, meaning they could no longer meet, hold activities or receive funding on Northeastern Univeristy Campus.
Over the years, Max has witnessed what he believes is a deliberate targetting of the SJP organization and members leading up to and including this latest development. The story might have remained buried and unnoticed but the issue has turned into something more - the right to Freedom of Speech, and Northeastern SJP has received mainstream and alternative media coverage, support from activist groups nationwide as well as the American Civil Liberties Union which may take legal action against Northeastern University on behalf of SJP.
Below is Max's articulate and documented response to Northeastern University's suspension of his group. It is suggested that if you read the news stories following this story that you compare Max's response to what the news may be reporting inaccurately with or without intended bias:
March 14, 2014
Emily Hardman Director of Student Programming & Communications Office for Student Affairs Northeastern University
Re: Appeal of March 7, 2013 Suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine
Dear Ms. Hardman,
We received the attached suspension notice from Jason Campbell-Foster. On behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine, we are writing in response to this suspension notice. As discussed in detail below, we contest the assertions made by the University in the suspension notice. Please consider this letter our appeal of the suspension of our group, which we intend to supplement once we have seen all of the evidence on which the University is relying. Given the severity of the punishment, we believe we should be provided with due process, including access to the factual allegations against us and a proper hearing.
On April 8, 2013, an invited panel of active duty Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers spoke at Northeastern. SJP conducted a walk-out at the beginning of this event, after which the event continued as scheduled. We did not disrupt the event. The following day, the University attempted to cancel an event planned by SJP as a “direct result” of our April 8, 2013 walk-out, according to Stephanie Pierce. After a hearing, SJP was found responsible for a violation of the demonstration policy – specifically, a failure to give 7-day notice of a demonstration. SJP was sanctioned, and placed on probation for alleged violations of the policy relating to the April 8, 2013 IDF panel event until December 31, 2013. We disputed these allegations at our hearing and in our subsequent written appeal. On May 3, 2013, we were advised of the penalties and conditions to which SJP would be subjected. We were informed that, in order toreturn to good standing with the University, among other conditions, we would need to create and submit a civility statement in coordination with the Political Action Council. We submitted our civility statement on December 31, 2013. Unfortunately, the Political Action Council did not convene between the day our sanctions were issued and the day we submitted thisstatement. After we submitted the statement, on February 12, 2014, Associate Dean Jose asked SJP to revise the statement, saying he “Would like to receive something back…before Spring Break.” (See attached email from Dean. Jose). While we made several efforts to connect with Mr. Jose after February 12th, as detailed below, we were unable to talk with him. At no point were we told that February 28th was a "deadline” after which we would be in violation of a rule or policy.
Since the day our sanctions were issued last May, the Political Action Council has met exactly once. The attendance record from the February 27th, 2014 meeting of the Council reflects that two SJP members were present.Given that we submitted the civility statement and attended this meeting, we understood that SJP started the Spring 2014 semester in good standing with the University and that the probation ended December 31, 2013 as indicated in communications with University officials. On February 23, 2014, mock “eviction notices” were distributed at student dormitories on campus. On February 25, 2014, NUPD officers began to contact SJP members by cell phone, arrive unannounced at their homes, and interrogate them about the distribution of the mock notices. Last week, the University suspended SJP, and informed us of this by a notice dated March 7, 2014 (see attached). In the week and a half between the police interrogations and the issuance of the suspension notice, SJP was never notified or formally charged with involvement in the distribution of the mock eviction notices. SJP has not been granted a hearing or any other opportunity to formally contest any of the allegations made in the suspension notice.
RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS MADE AGAINST SJP IN SUSPENSION NOTICE
As stated above, we contest the assertions that the University made about us in its suspension notice (attached). Directly below, we have highlighted and responded to some of the most glaring inaccuracies contained in the notice. However, this list is not exhaustive, and our appeal letter is no substitute for a formal public hearing, an opportunity to challenge the evidence the University cites, and a formal opportunity to respond to all allegations. This is not a complete rebuttal, but merely a sampling of particularly egregious inaccuracies and omissions contained in the suspension notice.
1 and 2. The University incorrectly alleges that SJP failed to “reach out” to Mr. Jose, and that SJP failed to submit a civility statement with “significant revisions” before the February 28th “deadline”
On October 28th, 2013 SJP members met with Mr. Jose and discussed the submission of the civility statement before the end of the year. SJP submitted our civility statement on December 31, 2013. As stated above, we had no opportunity to attend a Political Action Council meeting before this date because no such meeting had been convened. We met with Mr. Jose on February 12, 2014. He sent an email on February 13 detailing broad changes he wanted “to see added” to our submitted statement, and that he “Would like to receive something back…before Spring Break.” (See attached email from Mr.Jose). We made several efforts to contact Mr. Jose after February 12 both in person (on March 3 & 4) and by phone (March 6), as SJP members’ phone and voicemail records show, but he indicated that he was busy, and we were unable to reach him before Spring Break,. SJP acted in good faith by submitting a civility statement outlining our group’s intentions, attending Political Action Council meetings, meeting with Mr. Jose, and attempting to reach him to further discuss the matter before Spring Break. It is disingenuous of the university to state in the Suspension Notice that we failed to meet a “deadline” when we made significant efforts to respond to Mr. Jose in the short timeframe his email suggested. It is also significant that the NUPD began interrogating SJP members on February 25, 2014, mere days before the beginning of Spring Break when Mr. Jose asked that we send him a revised civility statement. The interrogations diverted our attention from revising the civility statement, and required our immediate response given the legitimate fears of legal and academic consequences for targeted students.
3. The University alleges that SJP is responsible for sliding mock eviction flyers under doors in residence halls; a charge which SJP disputes.
SJP disputes the charge that we violated University policy in connection with mock eviction notices that were slid under student's doors. Before receiving the March 7 suspension notice, SJP was never notified or formally charged with involvement in the distribution of mock eviction notices. SJP has not been granted a hearing or any other opportunity to formally contest this allegation, nor has the University provided us with the evidence on which they have based this charge.
4. The University incorrectly asserts that SJP has not been regularly attending meetings of the Political Action Council.
As stated above, since the day our sanctions were issued last May, the Political Action Council has met exactly once. The attendance record from that one meeting on February 27th, 2014 reflects that two SJP members were present. Additionally, in our meeting with Bob Jose on February 12th we discussed SJP’s past participation in the Council meetings and the new plan for having the Council convene only once per semester. This demonstrates that SJP has in fact been consistently participating in the Council meetings, as Dean Jose remembered our participation in these sessions and never mentioned that we had not met our obligation with regard to the Council.
5. The University falsely accuses SJP of acts of vandalism that allegedly occurred on the Northeastern University campus in 2012. In the suspension notice, SJP is accused of “Vandalism of university property by placing stickers on variousstructures in April 2012.”
The March 2014 suspension notice is the first time that SJP has been informed of any accusation that we allegedly engaged in such behavior. SJP had nothing to do with this alleged vandalism. There are many individuals within and beyond our campus community who engage in pro-Palestine speech and expression, and not all of these individuals are SJP members. SJP must be provided a full demonstration of the evidence used to justify our suspension, and a fair, public, and meaningful opportunity to contest any such evidence.
6. The University incorrectly alleges that SJP failed to comply with cancellation of an April 2013 event. In the suspension notice, the University claims that SJP is charged with “Failure to comply with event planning and contract policies in preparation of an event with a guest speaker in April 2013,” referring to the planned lecture by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta.
The suspension notice is inaccurate. In our sanction letter, dated May 3, 2013, the University found us “NOT RESPONSIBLE” for the charge, “Failure to comply with cancellation of event as requested.” This part of the sanction letter refers to the same April 2013 event as the March 2014 suspension notice. It is unclear why, in March 2014, the University is justifying the suspension of SJP based partly on an alleged violation for which the University already found us “NOT RESPONSIBLE.”
7. The University incorrectly alleges that SJP disrupted another student event on April 8, 2013. SJP was found responsible for violating the university demonstration policy by not providing one week advance notice.
There was no finding that SJP was responsible for any disruption. In fact, SJP did not disrupt that event. It went forward and no one was prevented from speaking.
CONCERNS REGARDING DISPARATE TREATMENT
Several aspects of the suspension notice, and other University communications and actions, suggest that the school has singled out SJP and its members for interrogation, sanction, and suspension due to our pro-Palestinian political beliefs. Some individual students may also have been targeted for their real or perceived religion, race, or ethnicity. To treat students r student groups differently on these bases is illegal, violates school policy, and is inconsistent with maintaining diversity, academic freedom, and a free exchange of ideas on campus.
1. Northeastern University SJP is the only group ever to be suspended and banned from Northeastern’s campus for peaceful expressive activity, to our knowledge.
2. No other university has suspended an SJP chapter for alleged mock eviction actions, even though both individual students and student groups participate in such actions on many U.S.campuses.
3. It is unprecedented tosuspend a student group for alleged rule violations, particularly without a fair process to review and contest charges and evidence.
4. School policies regarding posting fliers are routinely flouted and ignored by other students and student groups, and we are unaware of any sanctions pursued against others who do this. It appears that flier distribution is only interrogated by the NUPD or subject to discipline when the content of the flier includes pro-Palestinian speech. Examples of tacitly accepted fliers on campus include athletic team boosters, postings for music and drama events, fraternity advertisements, and menus from local businesses.
The suspension notice relies primarily on charges for which SJP was found not responsible, or matters about which SJP has never had the chance to defend itself. That we are being suspended for rule violations, for which we have not been given the proper opportunity to respond, represents a fatal flaw in the process that has led to our suspension. The banning of SJP represents a draconian repression of our speech rights and belies the University’s commitment to academic freedom.
ABOUT STUDENTS FOR JUSTICE IN PALESTINE...
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a college student activism organization in the United States and Canada that promotes the liberation and self-determination of Palestinian people. The goals of the organization are to strengthen the student movement for Pro-Palestinian causes. The organization actively supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. As of 2010 SJP had more than 80 chapters at American universities.
Please visit Students for Justice in Palestine Nebraska University Chapter: