Over the past several years, higher education leaders and free speech advocates have grown increasingly alarmed at the rise of what PEN America calls educational gag orders: legislative restrictions on discussions of race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities in K-12 classrooms and on college campuses. PEN America has tracked nearly 300 bills, introduced in 44 state legislatures, have sought to restrict the teaching of such topics. Since 2021, nearly 100 such measures have specifically targeted college and university campuses.

These measures are a direct threat to the culture of open inquiry that underpins colleges and universities as a pillar of our democracy. Academic freedom is under siege, and college leaders have an important role to play in defending free speech for all on their campuses. That’s why today, PEN America and the American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, have released a new resource guide that gives college and university leaders the tools and resources they need to defend campus free expression from legislative attack.

The new resource guide, Making the Case for Academic Freedom in a Challenging Political Environment: A Resource Guide for Campus Leaders, provides an overview of the trends that are unfolding and the forces that shape them. It offers specific guidance to presidents, chancellors, and other campus leaders, explaining how they can address these issues with a range of audiences, including lawmakers, trustees, and community members. A brief, downloadable overview provides easy-to-use guidance for faculty and other university stakeholders.

The resource guide includes insights drawn from public opinion research ACE commissioned last year. The survey findings demonstrate broad bipartisan agreement that elected officials should not restrict what is taught on campus, and that it is important to preserve academic freedom and free expression in higher education.

The guide also offers information and arguments for presidents and other campus leaders to use in discussions with policymakers and others about legislative attacks on academic freedom.The freedom of faculty and other college stakeholders to shape the content and intellectual rigor of the curriculum is of paramount importance to the quality of students’ education. By serving as forums for free expression and open inquiry, colleges and universities prepare students to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex democracy and equip them with the skills they need to be productive citizens.

“We hope this resource guide will serve as a helpful tool in conversations with policymakers, elected officials, and other partners,” said Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America and a co-author of the toolkit. “As threats of censorship in academic settings grow stronger, we look to university leaders and free expression advocates to defend campus free speech against viewpoint-based legislative incursions and to champion the value of open academic inquiry in our democracy.”

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.