A New York judge has ruled that Fordham University “must recognize a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine [SJP] as a university-sanctioned club”, declaring that the university’s decision not to do so in 2016 was “arbitrary and capricious”.
Fordham SJP celebrated the victory with a tweet that thanked Palestine Legal and the Centre for Constitutional Rights for having “worked tirelessly…to overturn Fordham’s decision in court”.
The case goes back to the dean of students’ decision to reject the student government’s vote to accept the local SJP chapter as a university club.
According to the dean, the reason for the rejection was that SJP’s “goals clearly conflict with and run contrary to the mission and values of the university”, specifically citing the group’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
The lawsuit was filed in 2017, and yesterday, Justice Nancy M. Bannon ruled that Fordham “did not abide by its own published rules governing the approval and recognition of student clubs”.
Bannon’s decision noted that the university had not provided “a rational basis for concluding that SJP might encourage violence, disruption of the university, suppression of speech, or any sort of discrimination against any member of the Fordham community.”
“His only articulated concern was that SJP singled out one particular country for criticism and boycott. Again, this is not an established ground for denying recognition to a student club,” she said.
The judge noted that if such a rule were to be applied to SJP, it could later “be applied to students protesting or criticizing China’s occupation and annexation of Tibet, Russia’s occupation of Crimea or Iraq’s one-time occupation of Kuwait.”
Maria LaHood, deputy legal director at The Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represented the students, said: “the students’ support for Palestinian rights and their demand to freely express that support truly exemplify Fordham’s stated values, unlike the administration’s shameful actions here”.
According to reports, the university said it would review the ruling and decide how to proceed.