(MIAMI)— A coalition of Florida and national organizations replied to a letter from the State University System of Florida (SUS) today, again urging Florida university leadership to adhere to constitutional obligations by rejecting the use of disproportionate police force and harsh tactics against student protests.

The coalition first wrote to the presidents of Florida’s colleges and universities on May 3, raising alarm about the disturbing use of force against pro-Palestanian student protests on campuses, and expressing concerns about safety and basic free speech rights. In his response on May 9, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues alleged that Florida’s response was appropriate and within constitutional boundaries, applauding Florida’s “unapologetically partnering with law enforcement.”

Today, the coalition responded to Chancellor Rodrigues, challenging the justification offered for the use of force, and noting the worrisome mischaracterization of constitutionally protected student speech as violence or harassment. The coalition raised concerns about evidence of viewpoint-based discrimination seen in statements by senior administration officials, and emphasized the importance of preserving academic freedom and free speech on campuses amid rising student unrest. Coalition members also invited SUS leadership to meet to discuss these concerns and their resolution.

Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America Florida, said: “Student protests on Florida campuses have rarely been met with this level of unnecessary hostility and violence. Even when it involves civil disobedience, peaceful protest should be met with a proportional response that does not physically harm students or suppress their constitutionally protected speech. Under a governor who has incited hostility towards peaceful student demonstrators and called for their expulsion, the actions of many Florida universities have been worrisome and dangerous, posing  risk to student and faculty safety. We hope the SUS will take our response as an opportunity for productive conversation about how to protect all students and their free speech rights.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057