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Campus Free Speech

The Issue

Free speech has become a flashpoint for controversy on campuses across the U.S. In today’s debate over free speech on campus, our philosophy is guided by the 1948 PEN Charter to stand for the “unhampered transmission of thought,” to “oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression,” and to “dispel race, class, and national hatreds.” We believe that for a campus to be open to all ideas, it must be genuinely open to all people, including those from less traditional backgrounds and those from previously excluded groups. In our trainings for university faculty and staff, and in our advocacy for free speech and academic freedom, we encourage campuses to robustly defend free speech and open inquiry at the same time that they advance principles of diversity and inclusion and address lingering legacies of discrimination.

High School Students In Auditorium Participating In Lecture

WHAT ARE THE PEN PRINCIPLES OF CAMPUS FREE SPEECH?

The PEN America Principles on Campus Free Speech provide both general and specific precepts for nurturing campus communities that uphold the values of free speech, open inquiry, and robust inclusion. They offer a flexible, adaptive model for colleges and universities seeking to protect speech to the utmost while allowing for academic and social discourse that is truly inclusive and transcends boundaries.

Read the PEN Principles of Campus Free Speech

Campus Speech Campaign Featured Photo Student Protester Cropped

WHAT IS THE PEN AMERICA CAMPUS FREE SPEECH GUIDE?

The PEN America Campus Free Speech Guide offers practical, principled advice on free speech and inclusion on U.S. college campuses. The Guide contains advice for responding to speech-related controversies as well as guidance for proactive steps to avert such controversies and promote free speech and inclusion. The Guide reflects our efforts to uphold and advance the principles of free speech and inclusion in tandem, recognizing that college campuses are foundational to the future of civic life and often the catalyst for wider social change.

Read the Campus Free Speech Guide

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BRING US TO YOUR CAMPUS

PEN America partners with schools, colleges, and professional organizations to facilitate workshops, convenings, advisory meetings, public events, and educational programs. We tailor these engagements to the needs and interests of particular educational communities and audiences. Trainings are based on the PEN America Principles on Campus Free Speech.

Campus for All Trainings

REPORTS

Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America

Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America

Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America details an array of infringements on speech, both official and informal.
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And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities

And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities

And Campus for All combines extensive reporting and thorough analysis of all sides of recent debates, as well as three case studies informed by exclusive interviews with protagonists in some of the most pitched campus battles in recent years.
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Wrong Answer: How Good Faith Attempts to Address Free Speech and Anti-Semitism on Campus Could Backfire

Wrong Answer: How Good Faith Attempts to Address Free Speech and Anti-Semitism on Campus Could Backfire

In "Wrong Answer: How Good Faith Attempts to Address Free Speech and Anti-Semitism on Campus Could Backfire," PEN America speaks out in response to a spate of legislation and legislative proposals at the state level that are aimed to buttress free speech protections.
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COMMENTARY

Joint Statement from PEN America, AAC&U: Legislative Restrictions on Teaching and Learning Violate Academic Freedom and Threaten Higher Ed’s Autonomy

June 8, 2022
“Legislators who attack the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of students and faculty are waging war against open inquiry itself,” said Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America.

Firing of Princeton University Professor Raises Questions Over Free Expression and Due Process

May 25, 2022
Without clear indications that offensive speech forms part of a pattern of harassing conduct, the expression of controversial or even offensive views should not be the impetus for the university to dissect unrelated behavior going back decades or to reopen formal investigations of previously adjudicated conduct.  If that becomes the norm, institutions risk becoming environments wherein speech is technically protected, but objectionable speech becomes a catalyst for reprisals for other conduct that would otherwise have gone unpunished. 

Removing Tenure and Faculty Status for Librarians at Texas A&M University Would Be “Fundamentally Misguided”

May 17, 2022
"Texas is at the epicenter of a nationwide book banning frenzy, and the state's lieutenant governor has made no secret of his political attacks on higher education. Given their unique role in the academy, librarians are obviously implicated in these political battles over free expression, literature, and knowledge."
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Do you need help with advocacy on your campus?

If you are a student, teacher, professor, or administrator who is having issues with free speech on your campus, PEN America has tools and resources to help. If you are in need of free speech advocacy, reach out to PEN America at [email protected]