Graduation Events Draw Security, Advisories

TALLAHASSEE — Some Florida state universities have ramped up security and issued advisories for graduation ceremonies, amid an already heightened police presence on campuses because of a wave of student protests.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations stemming from the war between Israel and Hamas have led to the arrests of dozens of protesters on at least three Florida university campuses this week. With graduation ceremonies in the coming days or underway, some schools have reported increased security and signs detailing what is and isn’t allowed at commencement events.

University system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues on Monday issued a memo to presidents of the 12 state universities, urging them to “protect the integrity of our commencement ceremonies and ensure the safety of our students.”

“No commencement ceremony should be canceled, or substantively modified, as a result of unruly demonstrators. These ceremonies are important milestones for our graduating students, and we owe it to our students to see to it that these ceremonies take place as planned,” Rodrigues wrote.

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The chancellor, a Republican former state lawmaker, also authorized school presidents to “take any steps necessary to ensure the safety” of people attending commencement ceremonies.

The University of South Florida has all of its normal security measures in place for this year’s ceremonies, which run Thursday through the weekend. Anyone who enters the campus Yuengling Center arena is subject to bag checks and metal-detector screenings.

But extra security measures also are in place.

“There is a heightened law enforcement presence on campus this week, including for our commencement ceremonies,” USF spokeswoman Althea Johnson said in an email.

Rodrigues’ memo included a directive that university officials “promptly inform faculty, staff, students, and guests that protests, discrimination or harassment at commencement ceremonies will not be tolerated.”

USF followed through.

“All graduates have been reminded that the USF Student Code of Conduct remains in effect throughout the ceremonies and inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated. Anyone who disrupts, distracts or otherwise interferes with the ceremony will be subject to removal from the event,” Johnson said.

Florida State University did not respond to questions from The News Service of Florida about whether security would be ramped up for commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday, but the school published an advisory online about prohibited behavior.

“For the comfort and respect of all attendees, disruptions to the proceedings will not be tolerated. This includes but is not limited to outbursts, excessive noise, heckling, the use of noisemakers or any behavior indicative of intoxication. Violators will be promptly escorted from the premises to maintain the solemnity of the occasion,” the advisory said.

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The FSU advisory also included a list of prohibited items that included flags and signs. The notice also said law-enforcement officials would have discretion to prohibit additional items.

Pro-Palestinian protests have shaken campuses across the country as the academic year ends. President Joe Biden held a media briefing Thursday to address the demonstrations.

“We’ve all seen images that put to the test two fundamental American principles. First is the right to free speech, and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. Second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld,” Biden said.

The president also said protests should not get in the way of graduation ceremonies proceeding smoothly.

“Violent protest is not protected, peaceful protest is. It’s against the law when violence occurs. Destroying property is not a peaceful protest, it’s against the law. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduation — none of this is a peaceful protest,” Biden said.

Florida International University boosted security for its graduation ceremonies. FIU started holding ceremonies Sunday, with the events continuing through Thursday.

“As part of the planning process and prior to the chancellor’s memorandum being issued, the FIU Police Department increased staffing levels at commencements and put plans in place to address potential protests. Fortunately, no disruptions have occurred,” Maydel Santana, a spokeswoman for the school, told the News Service.

Florida Gulf Coast University, on a webpage including advisories for people who will attend commencement ceremonies over the weekend, has a general reminder that guests should “be respectful and courteous of others” and lists items such as signs that are prohibited.

Other stories you may want to read:

Best Cartoons of the Week: Befuddled Biden, Soros, and Columbia U. Yearbook

Josh Hammer: Joe Biden, Dearborn Shahid, Commits Political Suicide via Hamas Appeasement

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