Fordham University filed a motion this week requesting that a New York court dismiss a lawsuit brought by students whose application to establish a chapter of a notorious anti-Israel group was denied by administrators.
The motion outlined the reasons Keith Eldredge, Fordham’s dean of students, rejected the request in December for a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to become an officially recognized club at the university’s Lincoln Center campus.
The students, represented by lawfare group Palestine Legal, have claimed their freedom of speech rights were violated.
Fordham has now insisted that administrators followed “club approval policy and procedures” and had a “rational basis” for rejecting the application.
Although the SJP chapter was approved by the student government in November, the motion cited the Fordham Club Registration Process guidelines that state the “Dean of Students has a right to veto any new club.”
In an attached affidavit, Dean Eldredge explained that he denied the application “in order to prevent polarization [on campus]…and the resulting possible negative impacts on student safety and the general security of the Fordham community.”
“[M]y decision involved many hours of research, discussion and deliberation,” Eldredge noted, citing talks with the Jewish Students Organization and numerous faculty members. During that process, Eldridge said he uncovered concerning information about other SJP chapters’ activities.
According to Eldridge, the “[p]etitioners are simply unhappy with the decision to deny approval of the proposed club,” and the door remained open for a different Palestinian human rights group to be established at Fordham.
A second affidavit was submitted by Dorothy Wenzel, Fordham’s director of the Office for Student Involvement, outlining the club approval process generally and the timeline of the various steps the SJP application went through.
“As the world marks fifty years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, groups like the proposed SJP at Fordham play a vital role in helping to shift domestic public opinion away from uncritical support for Israeli policies,” Palestine Legal said. “Fordham’s ban on SJP reflects a broader trend of growing hostility towards advocacy for Palestinian rights.”
Palestine Legal also stated that Eldrege’s affidavit “confirmed that his decision to deny SJP official club status was based at least in part on unfounded allegations, published in right-wing outlets like The Algemeiner and by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League that are openly hostile to Palestinian rights advocacy, about unaffiliated SJP groups on other campuses.”
In March, a free speech organization listed Fordham as one of the worst colleges for freedom of expression because of its rejection of SJP. The motion filed Monday rebuffed the First Amendment argument on the grounds that Fordham was a private institution.
Fordham’s decision to reject SJP was widely applauded by antisemitism experts, including one who encouraged other institutions to follow the university’s example and treat SJP like a “hate organization.”
According to at least three studies, the presence of an SJP at a university — as well as that of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign SJP supports — was correlated highly with antisemitic activity at that campus.
As The Algemeiner has extensively documented, SJP chapters across the US have made moves like inviting a convicted Palestinian terrorist to speak at Northwestern; spreading false information about Zionism at the University of California-Santa Barbara; and forcing students to call for police intervention after intense protests at the University of California-Irvine.