On November 15, 2023, Indiana University (IU) denied a room reservation request by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), a student group, for an on-campus event hosting Miko Peled, an Israeli-American veteran of the Israeli military and a peace activist.
The denial occurred against the backdrop of a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of mid January, had reportedly killed more than 23,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions on campuses in the United States and other countries. In Indiana, in November 2023, Indiana State Representative and US Senate candidate Jim Banks sent a letter to IU expressing concern about anti-semitism on campus and noting that the university could lose federal funding if it tolerates anti-semitism.
Political science and Middle Eastern students professor Abdulkader Sinno had previously requested a room for the PSC event to take place on November 16. While Sinno’s request was initially approved, it was canceled on November 14, two days prior to the event, under allegations that Sinno had violated university policy (see report). On November 15, the PSC attempted to rebook the room for November 16. However, IU Space Reservations denied the group’s request on the basis of short notice. Space Reservations told PSC that the event would require security and that IU could not provide adequate security with such short notice. The event services coordinator for Space Reservations told PSC that the event could be rescheduled. PSC argued that it had already paid all expenses for hosting Peled, but was again told that the event could not take place given the security requirements.
On November 16, PSC went ahead with hosting the event despite the lack of approved room reservation. Event organizers reported that IU employees attempted to lock the room but apparently did not succeed. Nearly 75 people attended the event, which took place without incident.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about an attempt by higher education authorities to limit the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly on campus by denying a student group the space for a previously approved event. University authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with student expression and assembly, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. University actions that limit the rights to free expression or association on campus have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.