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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.

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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

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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

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FREEDOM TO LEARN OP-ED SERIES

Amid an unparalleled wave of attacks on academic freedom and public education nationwide – including the introduction of nearly 200 educational gag orders and the adoption of gag order policies in 19 states – PEN America, in partnership with the Washington Post’s Made by History section, launched the Freedom to Learn op-ed series. Made by History is an independent editorial section of the Post featuring content from academic historians on current events. Edited and published by the Made by History editorial team and sponsored by PEN America, the Freedom to Learn series provides historical context for the current assault on public education in the United States and elsewhere.

READ THE PERSPECTIVES

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

University of Idaho Guidance on Near-Total Abortion Ban is a Chilling Example of Linked Threats to Free Expression

September 28, 2022
“The University of Idaho’s guidance to its staff is a chilling example of the threats that new, expansive restrictions on abortion rights pose to freedom of expression, and a deeply troubling instance of administrative censorship,” said Summer Lopez, chief program officer of Free Expression at PEN America. “The language of Idaho’s abortion law is vague, but the university’s guidance risks doing the censors’ work for them, instilling in faculty the fear of professional and even criminal repercussions for mention of abortion or contraception. “The guidance issued by the University demonstrates how this law tramples not just on reproductive rights, but on the academic freedom of faculty and students,” Lopez continued. “The state’s attack on reproductive freedom has now expanded to free inquiry in the classroom and in teacher-student interactions, in violation of free speech principles.”

“Heckler’s Veto” Has No Place in Interrupting Speakers on College Campuses

September 21, 2022
(NEW YORK) — Protestors at the University of New Mexico last week interrupted a speech by conservative commentator Tomi Lahren, who appeared at the invitation of conservative student group Turning Point USA. Video recordings show that student protesters chanted “Shut it down!” and pounded on the walls of the event room, making it difficult for […]

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.
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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]