(New York, NY) —Students at Butler University in Indiana allege that an event featuring Angela Davis, which was to take place this week, was abruptly cancelled by university administrators “without warning or discussion.” According to the students, the administration offered “inconsistent and unfounded” justifications for the cancellation. They allege that the university is choosing to arbitrarily enforce procedures that have not been enforced for “countless” other events and speakers in the past.

“There are exceptionally few cases in which it would be acceptable for administrators to cancel an academic event organized by students at an institution of higher learning, and there is nothing to suggest that this is one of them,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America. “Colleges and universities have an obligation to expose their communities to a wide variety of thought, and to model how to engage in dialogue around any controversial ideas productively. It is alarming to hear students allege that Butler administrators are fishing for procedural excuses to bar Davis from speaking; if they have issues with the content of her remarks, they have many other ways of making their values and views heard. At a time when conversations about racial justice and equity are urgent, it is profoundly disappointing to hear of any university  working to impede and prohibit them—let alone with a national figure who has faced efforts to shut down her speech for decades. It is not too late for Butler leaders to do the right thing–they must reverse this disgraceful decision immediately and allow this event to go forward.”

“In circumstances like this where there is even the possibility of appearing like administrators are trampling on students’ organized events, it behooves the university to be transparent and clear about its processes,” continued Friedman, “and to work diligently to support students to ensure such events go forward without bias. If that is what is happening here, that is a good thing; but our concern remains that students are alleging that policies are being enforced arbitrarily and inconsistently, leaving them with the impression that the speaker at hand is the reason why.”

Read more about how campuses can openly demonstrate a commitment to on-campus speakers and dialogue with the PEN America Campus Free Speech Guide.