Northeastern U administrator: SJP’s suspension is ‘not [issue] of free speech or the exchange of disparate ideas’

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 37 Comments

Northeastern-University

Since being suspended by university administration, interrogated by campus police and threatened with suspension for passing out mock eviction notices across campus, Northeastern University’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter has received hundreds of messages of support from around the country. Northeastern’s administration has yet to issue a formal public explanation for the suspension and has not responded to my request for comment. However, it appears that the growing outcry is having an impact on the administrators.

Michael Armini (Photo: Northeastern University)

Michael Armini (Photo: Northeastern University)

In an emailed response to a professor who wrote to Northeastern to complain about SJP’s suspension, Michael Armini, the Senior Vice President of External Affairs for Northeastern University, dismissed all allegations of free speech suppression. He went on to claim that no SJP member has been threatened with expulsion.

On Democracy Now yesterday, Northeastern law student and SJP supporter Max Geller explained that students routinely leaflet and promote political causes on campus without any repercussions. According to Geller, there is no precedent for SJP’s suspension — it is the product on an aggressive campaign to crush Palestine solidarity activism on campus by outside pro-Israel groups.

Armini’s reply is below:

I am responding to your recent communication about Students for Justice in Palestine at Northeastern University.

The suspension of SJP was handed down only after a careful and thorough review of the facts. Despite repeated efforts by university officials to work with the leadership of SJP, the organization has repeatedly shown a disregard for university policies over an extended period of time. Contrary to assertions from some parties, SJP leaders have not been banned permanently from participation, and the organization has had many opportunities to discuss its conduct with university officials. Further, reports that expulsion procedures have been initiated against students affiliated with SJP are false.

The issue here is not one of free speech or the exchange of disparate ideas. Instead, it is about holding every member of our community to the same standards, and addressing SJP’S non-compliance with longstanding policies to which all student organizations at Northeastern are required to adhere.

I hope this reply is helpful and sheds light on the relevant facts.

Sincerely,

Michael Armini

Senior Vice President

External Affairs

Northeastern University

Armini has yet to produce any documentary evidence to support his claims. His insistence that no students have been threatened with expulsion run directly counter to claims by two SJP members. They say they have received letters from Northeastern’s administration summoning them for disciplinary proceedings, and that they have been charged with infractions which could merit their expulsion.

In an email to me, Geller responded to Armini:

Why after your “review of the facts” did you not see if fit to give SJP a hearing or an opportunity to explain those facts before suspending them?

Let’s talk about these facts. If, Sjp remains suspended until all current leaders graduate, are they not permanently banned? This is semantic distinction and doesn’t make any difference. The problem is that we are being sanctioned for exercising our speech rights.

The policy violations that we’ve been convicted of without trial occur everyday. Flyers from all sorts of groups are routinely placed around the school without mention from administrators let alone a full on police investigation including home visits and interrogations. The selective enforcement of these policies is the problem. The university obfuscates because it doesn’t have the facts on its side. What, if not viewpoint discrimination, could explain my these policies are only enforced when it comes to SJP? What else could explain the police being deployed to investigate a policy violation they’ve never investigated before.

This letter says our suspension is about holding all members to the same standard, then why does the university keep treating us so different?

37 Responses

  1. Citizen
    March 14, 2014, 10:31 am

    Typical chutzpah.

    On a related note, fellow MW readers:
    Please sign this petition to our government, the WH & both houses of Congress:
    Stop Illegal Israeli Settler Expansion: link to petitions.moveon.org

    It’s a petition to stop all aid to Israel until Israel stops its illegal settlement expansion.
    Kerry and Obama can’t do anything without broad grassroots support on this issue.

    • American
      March 14, 2014, 10:55 am

      Signed.

      • Citizen
        March 14, 2014, 3:26 pm

        Thanks, American. Anybody else willing to support this grassroots petition to end the status quo?

      • ah
        March 14, 2014, 3:59 pm

        DONE!

      • Citizen
        March 15, 2014, 8:24 pm

        Thanks ah

      • Real Jew
        March 14, 2014, 9:49 pm

        Absolutely

      • Citizen
        March 15, 2014, 8:25 pm

        Thanks Real Jew

      • W.Jones
        March 14, 2014, 10:37 pm

        Me, because you asked.

      • Citizen
        March 15, 2014, 8:25 pm

        Thanks, W. Jones

  2. JeffB
    March 14, 2014, 10:32 am

    What, if not viewpoint discrimination, could explain my these policies are only enforced when it comes to SJP? What else could explain the police being deployed to investigate a policy violation they’ve never investigated before.

    Mainly the fact that they refused compromise. In 2013 the administration wanted to work out a compromise with SJP where they agreed to voluntarily adhere to rules of civility. The refused and demanded their maximal legal rights. Well then the other side can then of course is also going to preforce have to use a legal complaint. So incivility becomes intimidation. Intimidation / menacing… are crimes. Once students can’t rely on notions of civility then they have to rely on the criminal justice system and rather than saying to a dean “X was being rude” they make sworn statements to police that “X was being threatening”. Then it becomes a police matter and there is an investigation.

    The difference between SJP and other groups is that SJP upon hearing that there were civility complaints being made decided not to work with the administration in addressing those.

    No question SJP is being treated unfairly. No question this unfair treatment has to do with the fact that they are expressing a political opinion that large numbers of students find deeply personally objectionable. SJP probably didn’t engage in intimidation, what they did engage in was lots and lots of rudeness and an unwillingness to tone it down. People objected to being treated badly by SJP and SJP have handled these objections by to mocking, attacking and defaming the people offended. Colleges most certainly do try and enforce standards of civility. Lots of organizations get in trouble for racial intolerance, cultural intolerance… which is defined by other groups getting upset. As a country bullying is getting less acceptable in schools at all levels. So that’s how rude becomes threatening to the victims. Civility is the means be which societies draw a very clear distinctions between a safe messenger with an upsetting message and a threatening messenger.

    I’m not sure why adults aren’t explaining to SJP the reality that while in activism you want to make people upset, you don’t want them so upset that they run to police. They need to find the right balance of how much to upset people.

    • Giles
      March 14, 2014, 4:02 pm

      Jeff B. You have completely left out the fact that NU’s actions followed after pressure brought to bear from the various pro Israel Orgs and rich Jewish donors as outlined in Max Blumenthal’s article. R U saying the NU independently took this action without that pressure? Or that Max is lying? Why would these groups have to bring such pressure to bear on NU?

    • Jim Holstun
      March 14, 2014, 4:16 pm

      JeffB, whoever he may be, has certainly internalized the authoritarian psychobabble of contemporary university management. “Civility” indeed–the lubricant of choice for this sort of hack. The final reference to “adults” is particularly civil, JeffB. And the word you want there is “perforce,” not preforce. Use it right and you’ll sound more British, which is to say, civil.

    • justicewillprevail
      March 14, 2014, 5:49 pm

      “Lots of organizations get in trouble for racial intolerance, cultural intolerance… which is defined by other groups getting upset. As a country bullying is getting less acceptable in schools at all levels.”

      If that were true, there would be very few zionist organisations left operating in the USA. Fail.

    • Citizen
      March 15, 2014, 6:08 am

      @ JeffB
      Were the sit-downs at lunch counters in the 1960’s South civil enough? They certainly upset the locals back then. Freedom Riders deeply upset tons of people, didn’t they?

      • JeffB
        March 15, 2014, 8:12 pm

        @Citizen

        Were the sit-downs at lunch counters in the 1960′s South civil enough? hey certainly upset the locals back then. Freedom Riders deeply upset tons of people, didn’t they?

        The issue isn’t upset the issue is threatened. The sit downs and freedom riders worked very hard to make it clear they were a non threatening group they were interested in equal rights. They didn’t engage in intimidation they worked very hard and trained hard not have precisely the opposite effect.

        They were in short far more civil than the administration is calling for.

      • Citizen
        March 17, 2014, 3:38 pm

        @ JeffB
        What, exactly, is “the administration calling for”?

      • JeffB
        March 18, 2014, 1:55 pm

        @Citizen

        What, exactly, is “the administration calling for”?

        What the administration was calling was that the SJP voluntarily go through administration provided civility training so that they could conduct demonstrations without crossing over into intimidation. For example that their demonstrators learn techniques for deescalation a conflict that’s about to get violent. Having things vetted for cultural / religious sensitivity. Etc… Basically typical university political correctness so that a political issue doesn’t turn into ethnic tension on campus and that SJP doesn’t generate more criminal complaints.

    • kma
      March 15, 2014, 12:20 pm

      I think it is valuable to have JeffB’s clarification of the talking points, assuming he knows what the university is really thinking.

      I still don’t understand how flyers are uncivil or threatening, though. I also know there are private schools in the US where being/supporting LGBT can get you expelled, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong or uncivil or that some action isn’t The Right Thing To Do. As for bullying, I’ve heard students (younger than college) complain that the anti-bullying effort is hypocritical while there is still a LOT of bullying of black/underprivileged/LGBT students by faculty. They see through the noise. “Civility” at NEU sounds like “don’t rock the boat for wealthy white zionist future leaders of America”.

      I gotta wonder if there isn’t ONE policeman there who finds this over the top.

      • Citizen
        March 17, 2014, 3:43 pm

        @ kma
        Please define the characteristics of a “white zionist future leader of America.”–thanks!

        I don’t see Zionism as something American at all. Zionism in my POV is anti-American. Americans believe in equal rights under law, and separation of religion and state. Am I misguided?

      • Citizen
        March 18, 2014, 6:33 pm

        @ JeffB
        (No reply button)

        Please point to where Pro-Israel groups on any US campus have to go through civility training. Thanks!

    • kma
      March 15, 2014, 12:34 pm

      p.s. no matter how you look at it, highlighting the situation in Palestine and educating the public about what the US and Israel do to Palestinians is a VERY uncomfortable conversation and can’t be done without showing the truly threatening situation under which Palestinians struggle to live. Evictions and demolitions are real, and there is NO CIVIL WAY TO PRESENT ETHNIC CLEANSING.
      If the issue is that people just don’t want to hear it, that’s not good enough either.

    • Shingo
      March 15, 2014, 5:46 pm

      Thanks for that long screed JeffB.

      The only problem wit bit us that you made it up. Nothing you gave all edged is based on evidence. No case for bullying was reported. No evidence of how many students were offended.

      But nice try anyway. You did your part for Israel.

  3. a blah chick
    March 14, 2014, 11:09 am

    Whenever officialdom issues statements like these it is necessary to read between the lines.

    “The suspension of SJP was handed down only after a careful and thorough review of the facts. “[We got a call from a wealthy donor]

    “Despite repeated efforts by university officials to work with the leadership of SJP,[they refused to shut up] the organization has repeatedly shown a disregard for university policies over an extended period of time.”

    “Contrary to assertions from some parties, SJP leaders have not been banned permanently from participation,[Yet]

    “Further, reports that expulsion procedures have been initiated against students affiliated with SJP are false.” [The wealthy donors haven’t decided on a fitting punishment]

    • Real Jew
      March 14, 2014, 10:03 pm

      Very clever blah chick.

      One has to wonder: almost every institution that hosts a palestine related incident whether it be academic or social there’s always wealthy zionist donors who appear seemingly out of nowhere threatening to pull funds if the institution doesnt tow their line. Its almost like they donate to these places precisely for this reason. Its crazy.

  4. Marshall
    March 14, 2014, 1:02 pm

    There’s recently been controversy here at UChicago about the university’s obligations under Title IX, and it’s pretty clear Northeastern egregiously violated them. Wouldn’t it be nice if pro-Israel donors and their puppets have to answer to the Justice Department?

  5. pabelmont
    March 14, 2014, 1:31 pm

    I wrote to Northeastern and then made the email an “open letter”.

  6. ThorsteinVeblen2012
    March 14, 2014, 2:43 pm

    “Contrary to assertions from some parties, SJP leaders have not been banned permanently from participation,[lots of things are temporary, life for example.]

    “Further, reports that expulsion procedures have been initiated against students affiliated with SJP are false.” [We discussed this in private are waiting for some extraneous excuse so as to mask our true motivation.]

    The issue here is not one of free speech or the exchange of disparate ideas. [Speaks for itself.]

  7. Krauss
    March 14, 2014, 3:05 pm

    When someone retorts to these kinds of tactics, you know that they are in essence desperate.

    They can’t win the argument on facts, so they just try ban the discussion.
    In the long run, it never works as long as the people on the right side of history keep at it relentlessly.

    • Sycamores
      March 15, 2014, 2:19 pm

      in one way these bans are helping to bring more attention to the public as well as galvanizing the students.

      why can’t the hasbarist argue with facts rather than resorting to bans? is one question that needs to be circulated.

      • Shingo
        March 15, 2014, 5:56 pm

        Because arguing the facts represents a losing argument for Zionists, especially in this case.

  8. Kathleen
    March 14, 2014, 3:13 pm

    “Armini has yet to produce any documentary evidence to support his claims” Wonder how long this will take?

  9. Kathleen
    March 14, 2014, 3:29 pm

    Just got off the phone with NE Sandra was very nice. Share with her that many of us who have been working on the I/P issue for decades have been so happy that things are opening up on college campus about this critical issue and that people are discussing and debating the Palestinian’s dire situation and Israel’s non compliance with international laws etc. Again she was very nice. I went on and said we are hopeful that Armini will be very specific about SJP’s “non compliance with long standing policies.” That it appears that SJP is being being treated with a different set of standards than other organizations and individuals on campus.

    She took my email address. My sense is that are getting a fair amount of calls.
    617-373-2101

  10. ah
    March 14, 2014, 4:06 pm

    I called the University twice and was able to speak to the assistants handling the phones, one being the presidents. I told them they were on the wrong side of history, people concerned with this issues will be calling, and the senior vice president stifling debate on a university campus because rich donors dont like to be exposed to Isreali atrocitries makes him a bigger whore than congress. Maybe I should have been a little kinder.

    • a blah chick
      March 14, 2014, 8:40 pm

      “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”

      No, Ah, you did exactly right.

  11. lonely rico
    March 15, 2014, 12:01 pm

    pabelmont – Good letter . Thanks.

    I wrote to Northeastern and then made the email an “open letter”.

  12. edding
    March 15, 2014, 1:31 pm

    The students should list all of the rights that are being violated by the Administration’s policies, and application of its policies. Maybe they can do that with the help of some good public interest and/or civil liberties lawyers. It sounds like the school is at risk of incurring serious liability if the students were to sue, and the school should be made aware of it.

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