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CUNY School of Law graduating class of 2024, venue-less over past controversy

Evulaj90 | Wikimedia Commons

CUNY Law School is struggling to secure a venue for this year’s graduation due to controversy surrounding a student speaker who criticized Israel in last year’s commencement address. 

In a faculty meeting held a month ago, CUNY Dean of Law Sudha Setty disclosed that the originally planned commencement ceremony for this year at Hunter College had unexpectedly fallen through.  

“They [Hunter College] have a very complicated set of concerns about hosting our commencement. That’s the summary of it,” Setty said during the Jan. 24 meeting, according to a recording obtained by Gothamist

When questioned about providing additional details, Setty responded, “I might be able to do it elsewhere … we are in a very public setting.” She also expressed being “surprised” by Hunter’s decision. 

Setty was also asked by an audience member if the reason was related to the ongoing war in Gaza. “That has never been raised,” Setty replied. 

The law school may now have to consider renting a more expensive private venue.  

“Though there were some discussions, Hunter College and CUNY Law never finalized a plan to host this year’s commencement,” Hunter College spokesperson Vince DiMiceli said in an email to Gothamist

This year’s commencement will be held on May 23 with a graduating class of about 160 students.  

During the May 2023 commencement at Queens College, CUNY Law student Fatima Mousa Mohammed, chosen by the graduating class to deliver a speech, spoke about the treatment of Palestinians by the state of Israel. 

Her speech garnered the attention of different Israeli groups, politicians and multiple news outlets including Fox News.  

In a publicly released statement by CUNY’s board of Trustees and Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, both parties condemned the speech and labeled it as “hate speech.” 

In the following September, CUNY Law School banned student speeches for the 2024 commencement, according to The New York Post. Student speeches are permitted for “pre-commencement events,” as the school is committed to ensuring a “welcoming” ceremony.  

The start of the Israel-Hamas war in October has since sparked both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrations in multiple schools and universities across the country. 

Last month, demonstrators from both sides of the conflict organized separate protests at the Department of Education headquarters. Demonstrators said Chancellor David Banks’ response to the war was “lacking” and called for stronger action against antisemitism and discrimination in schools. 

In the weeks following the war, Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered a review of CUNY’s policies and procedures on antisemitism and discrimination.  

“As Governor, I reaffirm that there is zero tolerance in New York for antisemitism, Islamophobia or hate of any kind, and it’s critical we deploy every possible state resource to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said.

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