As Texas students clash over Israel-Hamas war, Gov. Greg Abbott orders colleges to revise free speech policies

By Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune

As Texas students clash over Israel-Hamas war, Gov. Greg Abbott orders colleges to revise free speech policies” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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As the Israel-Hamas war continues to ignite tensions across Texas campuses, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order requiring Texas higher education institutions to discipline what the governor described as “the sharp rise in antisemitic speech and acts on university campuses.”

Colleges are expected to include the definition of antisemitism in their free speech policies, as well as establish and enforce punishments for violating those policies. Expulsion from the college could be considered an appropriate punishment, Abbott said.

“Texas supports free speech, especially on university campuses, but that freedom comes with responsibilities for both students and the institutions themselves,” Abbott wrote in the executive order issued Wednesday.

The Israel-Hamas war has tested free speech policies at colleges in Texas and across the country. As pro-Palestine and pro-Israel students engage in protests and heated discussions, school leaders have struggled to strike a balance between their roles as moderators and facilitators of intellectual debate on campus. At the University of Texas at Austin, for instance, some students have called on university leaders to provide more support and protections for Palestinian students on campus. Around that time, Abbott urged university leaders to protect Jewish students.

In his executive order Wednesday, the governor also singled out Palestinian groups on campuses — including the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine — who he says have violated free speech policies and should be subject to discipline.

Per Abbott’s order, the chair of the board of regents at each college has 90 days to share documentation verifying revisions were made to free speech policies and evidence that those policies have been enforced.

The order comes after the state dismantled DEI offices, whose responsibilities included making universities more welcoming and inclusive to people of all cultures and backgrounds.

This is a developing story; check back for details.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

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