San Antonio college students send letter demanding right to protest Gaza war

The students asked their school administrations to 'publicly oppose' an order from Gov. Greg Abbott asking universities to rein in speech about the Israel's invasion of Gaza.

click to enlarge Protesters attend a recent demonstration on UTSA's campus to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict. - Michael Karlis
Michael Karlis
Protesters attend a recent demonstration on UTSA's campus to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include a comment from San Antonio College officials.

Students from five San Antonio higher-ed campuses sent letters asking their respective administrations to "publicly oppose" an order by Gov. Greg Abbott requiring campuses to revise their free-speech policies to counter what he called a "sharp rise in antisemitic speech."

The letter — sent Wednesday to the presidents of San Antonio College, UTSA, Texas A&M San Antonio, Trinity University and UT Health-San Antonio — also asked school leaders to use their resources to litigate in defense of student speech.

Of the five schools, only San Antonio responded to the Current's request for comment on the letter.

“The Alamo Colleges District is reviewing the Governor’s Executive Order to assess its impact on our organization as well as clarity on implementation," SAC said in an emailed statement. "The district, including our five colleges, remains dedicated to providing campus environments that are welcoming and safe for all individuals. We value diverse opinions and robust debate, but that expression must be conducted respectfully and in accordance with relevant laws, policies, and procedures including our student code of conduct.”

In their letter, the students argued that Abbott, a Republican, singled out groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee as potential propagators of antisemitism but gave no example how the group or others had engaged in antisemitic speech. What's more, the letter points out that the governor  issued no similar orders targeting neo-Nazi groups active in the state.

"The timing of [Abbott's order] suggests an insincere concern for antisemitism and represents a familiar attempt to conflate solidarity with Palestine with a hatred for Jewish people," the letter reads. "In the context of real antisemitic threats from far-right white supremacists and an active genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, the logic underpinning this measure is both cynical and harmful."

Abbott has also cheered on the arrests of activists during recent campus protests. Law enforcement officials have arrested dozen of people at the University of Texas at Austin campus over the past few days, and police arrested 17 people on Wednesday as they broke up pro-Palestinian protests at the University of Texas at Dallas.

In an April 24 tweet about the UT-Austin protests, Abbott said the protesters "belong in jail" and added that students involved in "hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled."

However, Abbott's order and his applauding of campus crackdowns appear to be an about-face from his earlier claims that Texas colleges were stifling free expression.

“Some colleges are banning free speech on college campuses," the governor said in 2019 when signing a bill that Republican lawmakers said instilled new speech protections on campuses. "Well, no more because I'm about to sign a law that protects free speech on college campuses in Texas."

First Amendment advocates have noticed the apparent contradiction, arguing Abbott only cares about free expression when it fits his political agenda.

“What we're seeing here is this hypocrisy of big double standards saying we love free speech, not this speech,” Alex Morey, director of campus rights advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights, told the Texas Tribune.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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