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Champions of Higher Education

“We must be champions of the promise and purposes of higher education—of the “rule of truth” that it stands for both inside and outside these gates.”
Drew Gilpin Faust, former president, Harvard University

Since 2021, PEN America has documented a concerted legislative assault on the independence and intellectual freedom of American higher education classrooms and institutions. These laws seek to undermine free expression on campus, censor what can be taught and read in classrooms, and silence discussion of core issues related to American history and our country’s enduring challenges. 

Laws constricting higher education classrooms, curricula, and institutions have gone into effect in seven states, while over 100 additional bills across over 30 states have either been proposed or are currently under consideration. In PEN America’s 2022 report on the rise of educational censorship, “America’s Censored Classrooms,” we found that nearly 40% of all proposed educational gag orders introduced in 2022 targeted colleges and universities.

Galvanized by these legislative threats and united by a shared vision of American higher education as an essential pillar of democracy, over 200 college, university, and system heads are banding together to launch PEN America’s new initiative, “Champions of Higher Education.” Together, these higher education champions will coordinate communications and coalition-building efforts to fight political interference and government overreach on campus. Through writing and speaking engagements in communities where they have influence, and by drawing on their relationships with leaders across key sectors, the former higher education leaders will rally the public to maintain academic independence on our college campuses and reclaim popular recognition of higher education as a democratic and societal good.

Read the Champions of Higher Education Statement of Purpose and the full list of signatories here. The initiative is still recruiting former presidents and system heads to join its ranks; if you are interested in participating, contact Jacqueline Allain at [email protected].

In launching this nonpartisan initiative, PEN America is grateful for the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and the Henry R. Luce Foundation. The work of the Champions of Higher Education does not reflect the views or positions of these foundations. PEN America is also grateful for the collaboration of Campus Compact in developing this initiative.

editorials by champions of higher education