UGA professors call for protesting students’ suspensions to be lifted

More than 180 faculty members sign letter to administration.
Protesters in zip ties wait to be taken away in police vans after demonstrations Monday on the University of Georgia campus in Athens against Israel's war in Gaza.

Credit: Fletcher Page

Credit: Fletcher Page

Protesters in zip ties wait to be taken away in police vans after demonstrations Monday on the University of Georgia campus in Athens against Israel's war in Gaza.

ATHENS — A large group of University of Georgia professors has called on the university to immediately lift the suspensions of students who were arrested Monday in a campus protest.

A letter signed by more than 180 faculty members and submitted to the administration on Friday afternoon says UGA had the right to bring in the police and enforce campus free speech policies.

But the letter calls the suspensions “unwarranted and antithetical to our educational mission,” according to a copy seen by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Nine students were among 16 people arrested for criminal trespass by UGA police on Monday during a protest against Israel’s war in Gaza. All of the students have been suspended from UGA, according to some of the students.

“We, the undersigned faculty, call on Rebecca Scarbro and the Office of Student Conduct to lift the interim suspension immediately and allow our students to return to campus to complete the semester,” read the statement by professors and faculty. “Further action regarding the Student Code of Conduct can be undertaken in due course, with ample opportunity for due process.”

The letter was emailed to UGA President Jere Morehead, Scarbro, Provost S. Jack Hu, Vice President Michelle Cook, Dean Eric Atkinson and Associate Vice President Dan Silk.

The university acknowledged receipt of the letter and declined further comment.

Students received notice of their suspensions Monday via a six-page letter sent electronically by Rebecca Scarbro, Director of Student Conduct. UGA cited several violations, including “reckless disruption or obstruction of teaching, research, administration or other University activities.”

Students said they were just exercising their First Amendment rights to protest.

The students have the option to appeal their suspensions but regardless whether an appeal is requested each is “required to schedule an appointment” to discuss the matter with Scarbro by no later than Monday, according to the suspension letter. Expulsion, probation and restitution are included among sanctions in the UGA Code of Conduct for students found in violation.

The suspended students have been banned from campus in the meantime. At least two of the students are seniors, jeopardizing their graduation. Commencement ceremonies for undergraduates are May 10.

UGA professors were instructed this week by the Office of Student Conduct to call 911 if they saw their suspended students on campus, according to screenshots of emails shared with the AJC.

A UGA spokesperson said “the university cannot comment on any student disciplinary matters,” citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

UGA wrote in a public letter Thursday that those who were taken into custody Monday “chose to be.”

“Make no mistake: These individuals chose to be arrested, and they chose to resist arrest,” the public letter read. “They are all adults, and they consciously made these unfortunate decisions. But actions have consequences.”

In an earlier statement Monday, UGA said it remained “firmly committed” to freedom of speech and expression but that it also has the right “to regulate the time, place and manner” of protests.

But some professors interviewed by the AJC said the administration went too far, calling the suspensions “petty” and “punitive.”

Janet Frick, an associate professor in UGA’s Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program, said suspensions are supposed to be reserved “for only the most serious, immense dangers to campus,” such as when a student has been charged with a violent crime.

“Faculty are kind of famous for not agreeing on almost anything, so the fact that 183 signed on in less than 24 hours just from word of mouth shows how much agreement there is,” said Frick, one of the statement’s co-authors.

UGA had around 2,700 faculty members, including 1,700 professors, as of 2022. The state’s flagship public university has about 40,000 students.