By Victor Ordonez
Over 100 Fordham University faculty members have signed a petition in efforts to intervene in the hearing of Sapphira Lurie, FCLC ’17, who has been charged with holding a protest without proper authorization.
The protest came after Keith Eldredge, dean of students at Lincoln Center, turned down USG’s decision to approve the Social Justice for Palestine (SJP) club. Lurie, who was going to be part of SJP had it been approved, was involved in a protest at Lincoln Center on Jan. 23 against Eldridge’s decision.
Lurie faces an independent disciplinary hearing with Eldredge himself on Wednesday, Feb 22.
Professors who signed the petition say they have concerns regarding the hearing. Specifically, they are concerned by the one-on-one nature of the meeting and the lack of independent oversight.
“Dean Eldredge will serve as accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and punisher,” said the faculty petition.
Lurie said that she would like to bring at least one person to the meeting for support, but that her requests have been turned down.
“Eldredge and VP [of Student Affiars] Jeff Gray have refused multiple requests from myself, my lawyer and supportive faculty to drop the disciplinary charges or to at least allow a witness into this closed-door meeting that they have decided should happen between only me and Dean Eldredge,” said Lurie in an email to The Fordham Ram.
Lurie argues that she is the victim of intimidation because of her support for SJP.
“This is clearly an attempt to stifle the voices of SJP members and student leaders on campus,” said Lurie. “Going forward, I will not stop organizing and speaking out on campus. The administration cannot be allowed to intimidate us as a community.”
The faculty petition, along with a letter regarding the hearing and freedom of speech on Fordham’s campus was sent to Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, Tuesday.
The petition calls Lurie’s actions consistent with Fordham’s Jesuit nature.
“Ms. Lurie’s actions are consistent with the educational values that we hold most dear at Fordham: fostering students who strive to be men and women for others, and who find themselves, now and in the future, deeply bothered by injustice,” the petition reads.
Fawzia Mustafa, Professor of English and advisor to Lurie, helped orchestrate the petition. She and some of the other faculty member listed on the petition had taken part in the protest against the banning of SJP, and decided to speak out in her support. “We viewed this as an academic freedom/free speech emergency,” said Mustafa. “The disciplinary charges over protesting that very ban compounded our concerns.”
However, in a response from Jeffrey L. Gray, Senior Vice President of Student Affairs, the hearing is a fitting response according to University policy and code of conduct standards. The upcoming hearing does not serve to deter Lurie’s freedom of speech, according to Gray.
“Our students are free to express themselves and to advocate for the issues and causes that they believe in; this includes demonstrations and protests,” said Gray in the email that responded to the petition. “They are, however, expected to abide by the University’s policies and protocols when doing so, especially with respect to reasonable time, place and manner stipulations.”
McShane is aware of the ongoing situation regarding SJP along with current disciplinary hearing and has “entrusted the handling of this matter” to Gray and the appropriate staff, according to Gray’s email.
Lurie maintains that she was told that the protest in question had received official permission. Lurie said a fellow FCLC student who was organizing the event said she had spoken to Eldredge prior to the protest. “Eldredge seemingly gave his permission, designating the student as the event organizer and contact for administration and Public Safety,” said Lurie. Approximately one week later, Lurie received an email which said she violated University code of conduct by participating in the rally.
Lurie did not provide the name of the student.
At no point before or during the rally did any university official inform the protestors or Lurie that they were violating any rules, including Eldredge, who attended the rally, according to Lurie.
The administration maintains that Lurie did violate specific rules pertaining to Fordham’s policies governing picketing and other demonstrations.
Christopher Rodgers, dean of students at Rose Hill, said that Lurie’s disciplinary hearing was an inevitable result of her action. “It is entirely appropriate and, in fact, unavoidable that there be a response of some kind when any student intentionally violates the University’s code of conduct,” said Rodgers. “This is the case regardless of viewpoint and includes the demonstration policy.”
Lurie did not receive proper authorization to host a protest, nor was she assigned space to occupy through the established University procedures, according to the administration. These attributes are necessary to hold an on-campus protest according to Fordham’s Student Handbook.
“I and other concerned faculty are alarmed by four main issues: the banning of the club, which had been, as per usual university guidelines, approved by the FCLC United Student Government; the retaliatory nature of the charges when the facts of Ms. Lurie’s alleged infraction are murky at best; the protocol being used by the Division of Student Affairs in adjudicating this matter, where one person alone is accuser and judge conducting a hearing behind closed doors with no third party allowed as observer; and the university’s longstanding demonstration policy, which impedes free expression on campus.”