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Central Florida students speak out for Palestine, face discipline

By staff

Orlando, FL – Marcus Polzer, a Students for a Democratic Society member at University of Central Florida faced a formal hearing in front of the office for Student Conduct & Academic Integrity (SCAI) on May 30.

The office of SCAI alleged two counts of disruptive conduct, claiming Polzer taped flyers to light poles advertising SDS’s weekly meeting and pro-Palestine messages. Interestingly, while only citing evidence of taped flyers, the university claims the student leader broke rules regarding solicitation and fundraising. Neither Polzer nor the SDS chapter engaged in such activities.

The two charges brought were:

(3)(j) Disruptive Conduct- Violation of any other University regulation or policy as described in their UCF Regulations, UCF Policies and Procedures, or University department publicized policy.

(3)(k) Disruptive Conduct- Failure to comply with applicable and University regulations and procedures for solicitation and fundraising activities on campus.

The hearing began with the charged student giving a testimony as to why they are not in violation of the alleged charges. Polzer began by pointing out that he had been posting flyers on campus nearly every week consistently for over a month. However, he had not received word of any potential problem until the day after a rally held by University of Central Florida (UCF) SDS protesting a Lockheed Martin arms manufacturer event. The student also noted that he never disrupted any student activities while posting flyers, calling into question where charges of “Disruptive Conduct” came from.

After questioning of the student by panel members, SCAI called its only witness, a UCF police detective who was in charge of the case. After a short testimony, the detective was sharply asked by one of the panel members, “Who was reporting the flyers to UCFPD?” The detective replied that the police department had received a plethora of reports related to posting flyers at the time. 

The student and their legal representation were then allowed to question the witness. Among the pieces of evidence was a screenshot of a video taken from one of the many cameras on UCF campus identifying Marcus Polzer and showing him posting flyers. The detective was asked whether “whether the student could be seen disturbing any of the students nearby?” The detective replied that they couldn’t say, but that “clearly some students had been disturbed” since the police department was receiving so many reports at the time.

After the questioning of the witness, Polzer was allowed to give one closing testimony. They reiterated that these conduct charges are political, that alleging disruptive conduct for posting pro-Palestine flyers at a time when students internationally are demanding their universities divest from genocide cannot be seen as anything but political. Polzer only posted flyers to light posts, yet disruptive conduct and breaking fundraising rules are what are being levied. 

The director of UCF’s Student Conduct & Academic Integrity has ten business days from the time of the hearing to review the decision made by the hearing panel and deliver an outcome letter to Polzer. Then the charged student has ten business days to appeal if they choose.

After the formal hearing, the lawyer representing Marcus Polzer was contacted by UCF’s legal counsel. They demanded that the lawyer no longer work with the student due to the university hiring their firm on another matter and creating a perceived conflict of interest.

On June 6, University of Central Florida received his outcome letter stating that the director of SCAI agreed with the formal panel in finding Polzer in violation of both alleged student conduct charges. The director is only required to state their reasoning if they act against the findings of the panel, so no explanation was given as to why the charges were not dropped.

The charged student has been sanctioned with one semester of disciplinary probation, must complete a “10-10-10 Decision-Making Exercise”, and must write a two- or three-page paper reflecting on “what steps you might take in the future to ensure you are in compliance with University rules and regulations.” Given the political nature of these charges, their lack of proportion and reasoning, the charged student has decided to appeal the director’s decision.

In the weeks before, UCF SDS launched three days of call-ins to demand the charges and hearing against Marcus University of Central Florida be dropped. The day before the May 15 formal hearing, SCAI contacted the student asking to reschedule, pushing the formal hearing to May 30. While the office of SCAI claims that the rescheduling was due to a clerical error, the last-minute nature of their contact is proof that the pressure SDS has been building against UCF admin is working.

On May 28, UCF SDS held a speak-out at Memory Mall on UCF campus to demand that that the University disclose its investments in Israel and drop the charges against Polzer. “As students, it is in our collective interest that we fight for the right to speak our thoughts politically and to organize student groups,” said Vanessa Christaldi, co-founder of UCF SDS. “It is not a crime to protest, to tape up flyers, or to be opposed to genocide. Our university has chosen their side with their continued funding of the U.S war machine, putting the interests of war profiteers over the interests of their own students.”

Despite some initial rain, SDS members gave speeches throughout Memory Mall for two hours to students and attendants of a nearby graduation passing by. Marcus Polzer spoke as well, stating, “All of us have come here to receive an education at great expense, putting many of us into debt. Students are an integral part of the university, and we will not be silenced. Disclose and divest from Israeli genocide and drop the charges!”

#OrlandoFL #FL #AntiWarMovement #International #MiddleEast #Palestine #StudentMovement #SDS