UT Austin is investigating students arrested during pro-Palestinian protests

Several students arrested during protests on campus in April confirmed to KUT they are under investigation by the university for violating student conduct rules.

By Audrey McGlinchy, KUT NewsJune 10, 2024 10:45 am, ,

From KUT News:

Students at UT Austin who were arrested during pro-Palestinian protests in April are being investigated by the university and may face disciplinary action, according to emails sent to students Friday.

At least six students received letters from the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity around 4 p.m. Friday. The letters, which were shared with KUT, say the university is initiating conduct proceedings against the students. They include arrest affidavits and say the students allegedly violated two university rules, including failing to comply with university directives and disrupting teaching and learning.

The students were arrested during pro-Palestinian protests in April. Fifty-seven people were arrested April 24, most of them charged with criminal trespassing. The Travis County Attorney eventually dropped all charges. Another 79 people were arrested at a protest April 29. Some of those cases will likely go to court.

Mike Rosen, a spokesperson for UT Austin, said Friday the university would not comment on any conduct proceedings against students. According to the university’s student code of conduct, if students are found to have violated university rules, they could receive a written warning, face academic probation or suspension, or have their degree withheld.

Since late May, the students who received letters Friday have had holds placed on their accounts, meaning some have not been able to register for classes, access transcripts or get a copy of their diplomas. Many of these students were waiting for official disciplinary letters from UT.

After the April 24 protest, a UT spokesperson, Brian Davis, told KUT that arrested students could face discipline. Initially, Davis said students would not be allowed on campus. But over two hours Davis walked back that statement, eventually saying students could return to campus for “any reason,” but that the university could decide to discipline students after final exams and graduation.

Protesters gathered on the university’s South Lawn again April 29. As law enforcement officers tried to leave the campus alongside a van carrying arrested protesters, people tried to block the exit. Police used pepper spray and flash grenades to disperse the crowd. Police arrested 79 protesters that day.

Included in the letter students received Friday is a request that they submit a written response to the university by June 18. The university provided students with suggested prompts for their response, including questions such as, “In your view, is it appropriate to engage in conduct that prevents universities from performing their daily functions?” and “If given the ability to relive the day in question, would you do anything differently?”

One of the students facing discipline is Saja Naser. Police arrested her during the April 24 protest. Like others arrested that day, Naser’s charge of criminal trespassing was later dropped. But since May 20, Naser estimates, she has had a non-financial hold on her account, meaning she has not been able to register for a required course in what is supposed to be her final semester of school.

“It’s very obvious that they’re trying to punish the students, and they want to make an example of what not to do,” said Naser, who received a letter Friday alerting her that she is under investigation. “To tell other students, ‘Hey … if you do protests, then this is what’s going to happen to you.’”

Other universities have taken action against students for participating in pro-Palestinian actions on campus. On May 22, members of a Harvard University governing board said they had voted to deny degrees to 13 undergraduate seniors. The students, university members said, had violated university policies by taking part in an encampment on campus.

The UT students said the university had shared little information about why there are holds on their accounts. Naser said when she originally called the Office of the Dean of Students, an employee told her over the phone that the hold was “because of the protests.”

But in follow-up phone calls, Naser was not given a reason for the hold on her account. KUT listened in on a phone call Naser made to the Office of the Dean of Students. When she asked why there was a hold on her account, the person said, “I don’t have that information.”

According to UT Austin’s student conduct rules, the Dean of Students may withhold grades, transcripts or degrees from a student it believes has violated a university rule. A hold can be placed on a student’s account pending an investigation of the student or a resolution of the issue. That same set of rules states students must be notified by email or mail of allegations, proceedings and any interim action taken against them. The university does not say how quickly this should happen.

Spokesperson Rosen told KUT he could not explain why letters alerting students to conduct proceedings against them were sent out more than two weeks after the university put holds on students’ accounts.

Anne-Marie Garcia Jardine spent weeks trying to get a copy of her transcript to send to New York University, where she is planning to attend graduate school in the fall. She has had a hold on her account since May, she said, and has received emails from NYU saying she might lose her place as a student without a transcript from UT Austin.

Garcia Jardine received a letter Friday saying the university had begun conduct proceedings against her. Per a university police affidavit shared with KUT, she is being charged with “graffiti”; the victim in the incident is listed as the “University of Texas at Austin.”

“What exactly are they looking into? Especially if they let the seniors graduate. I walked across a stage, shook someone’s hand,” she said. “What are they holding? What are they trying to say?”

Garcia Jardine said she was eventually able to access her transcript because a university employee agreed to undo her hold for a 24-hour period. She could face additional punishment if she is found to have violated university rules.

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