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After Anti-Israel Speeches, a Law School Curtails Graduation Traditions

For the past two years, commencement speakers at the City University of New York School of Law have made support for Palestinians and opposition to Israel a focus of their speeches.

The backlash was intense.

So this year, well before other campuses across the United States faced upheaval over pro-Palestinian student demonstrations, the CUNY law school administration took a new tack. In September, before the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, the school announced that there would be no student speaker at all at this year’s commencement ceremony.

The choice is now drawing its own backlash and has brought more controversy to the event.

This spring, several students at the school sued university officials, saying that the school was suppressing speech and infringing on their First Amendment rights by not allowing a student-elected speaker to give an address. Two guests who had been scheduled to speak — Deborah N. Archer, a civil rights lawyer and president of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Muhammad U. Faridi, a litigator — recently withdrew from the event.

The ceremony will now have no outside speakers and no keynote address, the law school said.

The school also announced in April that it would host its May 23 ceremony off-campus, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, in a departure from the ceremonies of the past two years, which have been held at CUNY facilities. The Apollo requires guests to have tickets and has a smaller capacity than the school’s previous venues, the law school said.

In an email to CUNY students announcing her decision to withdraw, Ms. Archer said she felt compelled to decline “under the circumstances.”

“I cannot, as a leader of the nation’s oldest guardian of free expression, participate in an event in which students believe that their voices are being excluded,” Ms. Archer wrote.

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