SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: December 12, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Rutgers University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 12, 2023, the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at Rutgers University found out that the administration had issued an interim suspension of the group. The university converted the suspension to a one year probation in January 2024.

The suspension decision 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 early April 2024, has reportedly killed more than 33,000 Palestinians. The violence has led to heightened tensions on campuses in the United States and other countries.

According to the group, SJP received no prior warnings and learned of its suspension after members of the press contacted the group about it. In a letter, the Associate Dean of Students Michelle Jefferson told SJP that they had been suspended for disrupting classes, studies, and other on-campus activities, as well as for alleged vandalism at the business school. The Dean stated that SJP’s actions “pose a substantial and immediate threat to the safety and well-being of others.” Rutgers University provided no further information about any specific allegations.

Following an investigation, the group’s suspension was lifted. Instead, the group is on probation until the end of 2024.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a student group in apparent retaliation for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression. University authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with expressive activity on campus, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Where alleged violations of university policy do occur, authorities have an obligation to ensure due process, transparency, fairness, and proportionality when engaging in disciplinary action, and should avoid punishments that effectively restrict future expressive activity. University actions limiting the rights to free expression or association on campus have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.