Where Does NYU’s Relationship with SJP Stand?

Written by Tamim Alhourani

The relationship between the NYU administration and NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine organization has been tempestuous over the past couple of years. Though the two parties have always had their conflicting viewpoints, the tension among them spiked particularly during the university’s 2019 Presidential Service Awards Ceremony.

Despite taking pride in their winning of the award, SJP members and supporters were quick to point out the various oddities that accompanied the ceremony. Most notable was President Andrew Hamilton’s absence. Former NYU Jewish Voice for Peace president Rose Asaf tweeted, “this year Students for Justice in Palestine won a Presidential Service Award, and now the PRESIDENT of NYU is not coming to the PRESIDENTIAL service awards”. “They are also not calling out the names of the award recipients. Pathetic. ” Not only was President Hamilton absent, but the names of the awardee clubs and organizations were not called out, suggesting that the administration aimed to exempt itself from acknowledging SJP’s win. At least, that is how SJP members saw it. Trophies were not distributed either: another sign of peculiarity. There was simply “no way to see the list of winners,” says John J Kallas, a Student Government representative and SJP’s current treasurer.

It’s quite unusual what had happened given the ceremony’s reputability over the years. It’s tough to disagree with Asaf. After all, it’s the Presidential ceremony. “Some parents took time off” to attend the ceremony, according to John. Even if President Hamilton was unable to attend due to unforeseen circumstances, what explains all the other abnormalities that had come to pass in light of the group’s big win? Such occurrences implied that the group’s efforts were disregarded, and their achievements downplayed.

Kallas believes that NYU’s SJP branch has “made great strides” in its advocacy for Palestinian human rights. The organization takes pride in the passing of an NYU Student Government resolution that addresses Palestinian rights. During the spring of 2018, SJP succeeded in getting over 50 NYU clubs to sign onto a resolution that calls for the recognition of Palestinian rights. In fact, NYU’s very own Silver School of Social Work was onboard with this resolution, reported Kallas.

The award-selection process was originally conducted by a group of student affairs staffers and a student representative. It has since been remolded to become less democratic, overseen by the administration to a greater extent. Perhaps, such a change comes to prevent the winning of administratively opposed clubs such as SJP. Alumni have shown their discontent with the university’s decision to award the group. One even renounced his Distinguished Alumnus Award. Others had reportedly threatened to pull donations. The satisfaction of seemingly influential stakeholders had apparently come at the expense of the recognition of a group’s diligent efforts. 

SJP is attempting to implement responsible investment from the administration by divesting from apartheid-backing businesses and corporations. The group also aims to push the university towards adopting large scale transparency when it comes to investment, for there were speculations about NYU Board of Trustees’ ability to partake in socially responsible investment, amongst SJP and non-SJP students.

So far, the fall semester of 2019 has shown nothing new in regard to the NYU administration-SJP relationship. Whether the Students for Justice in Palestine group wins a Presidential Service Award – which now possesses a new name – this year would clear up different uncertainties. Arguably, the absence of SJP from the list of awardees this spring would ensure one thing: their claim that all the irregularities that had surrounded the ceremony during which they won an award came as the result of them winning, is, indeed, true. Will they win this year? Stay tuned.

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