Campus Speech

Florida Pauses Plan to Disband Pro-Palestinian Student Groups

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis campaigns in South Carolina
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Oct. 20, 2023. (Reuters/Randall Hill)

By The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A plan to prohibit a pro-Palestinian student group from state university campuses in Florida has been temporarily shelved while officials reassess the proposal.

State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues said Thursday that campus groups at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida thought to be chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine are actually “not chartered or under the headship” of the national organization, The Tampa Bay Times reported.

Rodrigues, working with Gov. Ron DeSantis, had targeted student groups, saying that their affiliation with the group aligned them with Hamas attacks on Israel. But both universities have since obtained legal opinions raising concerns about “potential personal liability for university actors” who were tasked with disbanding the groups, Rodrigues said.

Now, Rodrigues said he is seeking outside legal advice and working with the universities to elicit statements from the student groups in an effort to affirm that the groups “reject violence,” “reject that they are part of the Hamas movement,” and pledge “that they will follow the law.”

Leaders for the student groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment, the newspaper reported.

“Our campuses have avoided the violence and the antisemitism that is occurring on campuses all across this nation,” Rodrigues told the university system Board of Governors. “In Florida, we will not tolerate violent activity, antisemitic activity or failure to observe the law.”

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression had denounced the original plan, citing concerns over free speech.

Rodrigues said he will provide an update about the issue to the Board of Governors at a later date.