Student organizations value their autonomy – administrators should too

How can students possibly be independent when our administrators deem it appropriate to make university-wide statements like this? | Email from President Jessell and BOT Chair Tovar

PantherNOW Editorial Board

Over the last several weeks, Student Government Association has found itself caught in a dizzying back-and-forth with a variety of student groups over Ceasefire Now! 

Chances are, many students haven’t read the resolution, much less heard of it. 

The resolution, developed mainly by members of Young Democratic Socialists of America at FIU and Students for Justice in Palestine at FIU drew crowds of students from YDSA and SJP along with members of Hillel and other Jewish organizations on campus to the last two senate meetings.

It’s largely symbolic, calling on FIU to recognize and condemn Israel’s relations with Palestinians as genocide and human rights abuses, as well as divest from companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin that sell weapons to many countries, including Israel. 

In an email on Friday afternoon, President Kenneth Jessell and Board of Trustees Chair Rogelio Tovar addressed this resolution. 

While we understand the intent of the email, we at PantherNOW believe that it may have unintended consequences for the independence of student organizations.

The resolution’s application is largely theoretical as of now. It hasn’t even made it to the senate floor for senators to vote on its adoption

In the email, Jessell and Tovar address some of this.

“The draft resolution has not gone through the SGA process for adoption, and we have no idea whether it will ever be adopted,” they wrote, adding that the draft does not represent their position as leaders of FIU. 

Jessell and Tovar wrote that they “recognize our students’ right to debate and the rights of SGA as an independent body” which should extend to all students, including the “few students out of our total student population of approximately 56,000″ who created the resolution.

Writing an email about the resolution directly dampens that right and undermines the independence of student organizations as legitimate institutions that make FIU. 

“We cannot be silent because, unfortunately, this document has been widely distributed and has caused much pain to many in our community,” the email reads.

If an answer was needed, it should have come from the students who developed the resolution and those that are in the process of voting on it.

Nobody for one second should assume that a resolution developed mainly by two student groups represented FIU at large — either the entire student body or administration. 

Yes, it calls on FIU to make official statements. But because it’s a resolution, SGA couldn’t force FIU as an institution to do anything – even if it was adopted. Again, these pieces of legislation are largely symbolic. 

The motivation behind the email is to quickly and loudly announce that the administration is not affiliated with the resolution. However, doing so sets a horrible precedent.

First, it heavily discourages meaningful discussion on important issues like this. Students will feel as though they cannot engage within their own community without heavy oversight from administrators. 

Secondly – and perhaps even more importantly – it removes autonomy from student organizations. Students who are active in their university community aren’t children who need to be parented. 

A patronizing email removes the responsibility of organizations like SGA, YDSA, and SJP to answer for their own work. Anyone who takes issue with Ceasefire Now! needs to engage with its authors and proponents – not go running to administrators to “fix” it. 

That’s how it should be all the time — students need to be able to speak for the own work on any issue, from SGA to PantherNOW to any other club or organization on campus.

How can students possibly be independent when our administrators deem it appropriate to make university-wide statements like this, having no previous involvement in the issue at hand? 

If the goal was to remove association between FIU leadership and this resolution, then that was possibly accomplished at the cost of broadcasting the issue to the entire university when it was only officially endorsed by six students.

The PantherNOW editorial board does not wholly disagree with points made by Jessell and Tovar in the email. We neither endorse nor condemn Ceasefire Now!

What is unacceptable, however, is that our administrators do not see students as being capable of working through contentious issues like this.

We’re adults too.

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