UT-Austin spares pro-Palestinian protesters from suspension, offers them probation instead
Texas Department of Public Safety troopers move students off campus during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at the University of Texas at Austin on April 24. Photo: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

By Asad Jung
The Texas Tribune
July 8 2024

UT-Austin spares pro-Palestinian protesters from suspension, offers them probation instead” 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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The University of Texas at Austin has begun disciplining students who were arrested in pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April, scolding them for their actions but offering them a path to avoid suspension.

In letters sent out to students last week, first reported by KUT, university officials said it would be appropriate to suspend them for their actions during the protests but would give them the option to take “deferred suspension” instead, a form of probation that would allow students to remain in class and keep the disciplinary action from appearing on their final transcripts.

“Recognizing our commitment to educational growth, we want to offer you an alternative path to avoid suspension by proving that you have learned from this experience,” reads one of the letters obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Students who choose deferred suspension must agree to take an exam testing their knowledge of the university’s rules and agree not to appeal the decision. The status would be active until July 7, 2025.

Those who decline that option would be suspended, the letter says. Students may also appeal the disciplinary sanctions through a university hearing.

Ari Lenahan, a UT-Austin student set to graduate in December, said he was relieved the university offered him deferred suspension since students at other universities across the country are facing harsher punishments after participating in pro-Palestinian demonstrations. He said it may be the best choice for him since he aims to graduate this year.

“It’s a lot clearer where I stand now, at least in the university’s eyes,” he said.

Lenahan still has a hold on his account preventing him from registering for classes in the fall but said the letter he received July 3 states any holds will be removed once his case is resolved.

Anne-Marie Jardine, a recent graduate, received a sanction letter concerning her involvement in an April 24 pro-Palestinian demonstration. Jardine was told she would be under deferred suspension for one year if she were to re-enroll at UT-Austin. Jardine said she hasn’t received her official diploma from the university yet.

Many other students under investigation have not yet been informed about how the university plans to move forward with their cases. Sam Law, a PhD candidate who was arrested on April 29, said that he expects the university will contact him soon.

More than 130 protesters were arrested at pro-Palestinian demonstrations on UT-Austin’s campus in late April. In resolute efforts to dispel the protesters, law enforcement at the time deployed pepper spray and flash-bang explosives and charged students with horses. State troopers were deployed by Gov. Greg Abbott to help quash the protests and had a hand in the arrests.

Those arrested were charged with criminal trespassing but Travis County Attorney Delia Garza declined to pursue those charges.

In the aftermath of the protest, many students, faculty and free speech advocates questioned UT-Austin’s heavy-handed response to the protests and criticized state GOP leaders’ support of the arrests. Just a few years ago, Abbott had championed state legislation that protected free speech on college campuses, leading free speech advocates to ask who gets to enjoy free speech protections in Texas.

UT-Austin leaders, meanwhile, have vowed to carry out discipline against students who violated campus policies. Seniors in the class of 2024 were afraid their diplomas would be withheld, though they were permitted to join graduation ceremonies in the spring.

Sneha Dey contributed to this story.

Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/07/05/ut-austin-protests-investigation-probation/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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