“Why won’t you protect us?” students ask UNF president during heated town hall meeting

Carter Mudgett, Editor in Chief

Students confronted University of North Florida President Moez Limayem about campus safety, transparency and diversity issues during a Thursday afternoon town hall meeting that began with an ask for respect and ended with outraged students. 

Well over 50 students packed into the Talon Room on the fourth floor of the Osprey Cafe and peppered Limayem with questions for nearly 90 minutes straight.

An expectation of respect

The president opened the meeting with a single ask—that students treat him respectfully and give him time to respond. 

Students for a Democratic Society President Lissie Morales said that former UNF President David Szymanski published a statement in support of anti-racist education in 2020 and asked Limayem whether he would make one too.

Limayem did not respond directly to them, instead moving on. He later answered another student who asked the same question and said he would release a statement next week. After the meeting, he told Spinnaker that Morales’s tone was “disrespectful.”

Protecting the campus community

Alivia Kalin, an SDS member who led a rally in the Student Union earlier Thursday afternoon, said that university police did nothing when a preacher got in her face on Tuesday. Known as the preachers on the Green, the group frequently yells slurs and makes derogatory comments to everyone who passes by.

“What you did was wrong,” Limayem told Kalin, explaining that she should have ignored him. Other students jumped in and asked whether the president would do anything to protect them from harassment. 

University Police Department Chief Frank Mackesy explained that, as much as he’d like to ban them from campus, they are protected by the First Amendment. 

“Trust me, when I can [kick them off campus], I will,” Mackesy said, but explained that he can’t do anything unless they break the law.

Rachel Paul, the president of Students United for Workers Advocacy at UNF, asked Limayem how he plans to balance what she called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “orders” and protecting UNF’s faculty. 

UNF is legally bound to provide public records by request as a public state university. Limayem was adamant that he was not surrendering information to the state, only complying with the law. 

“We only gave publicly available information or the information that is related to [faculty’s] jobs,” he said. “Everything we write that is related to the job, it’s not private. It’s public.”

Over the past few months, UNF and other Florida state higher education institutions have received multiple requests for information from DeSantis and the Florida House of Representatives. Requests covered diversity, equity and inclusion funding, DEI-related documents, records of gender-affirming care and communications related to DEI. 

Last month, DeSantis pledged to completely defund all DEI initiatives in state universities. 

When asked how he would respond if DeSantis’s pledge came to fruition, Limayem used an answer that he repeatedly said during the town hall. 

“The answer is, this is a really hypothetical question. We just don’t know.” Limayem said. “How do you want me to answer you what we’re going to do with these centers when I don’t know if these centers will be included or not be included in the new law.”

Pushback from students about how the university is handling requests from the state is not new and UNF’s president told those in attendance that there will be more town halls in the future. 

“Limayem’s feeling the pressure,” Morales said. “He definitely feels the pressure, and I hope he knows that students are here and are going to hold them accountable whether he likes it or not.”


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