NEW YORK—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s refusal to allow the release of video depicting student protests during a lecture he gave at UCLA this week is an astonishingly thin-skinned reaction to the exercise of free speech, and an unfortunate denial of full transparency by a government official, said PEN America in a statement today.  

At a lecture and moderated discussion earlier this week hosted by UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations, Mnuchin was reportedly heckled by both students and non-students protesting the Administration’s recently passed tax cuts, with some protesters carried out of the lecture by armed police officers. The Treasury Department later revoked consent for video footage of the lecture to be released, despite an earlier agreement made that would have permitted the Burkle Center to post footage of the event to its website. Moderator Kai Ryssdal, host of American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” has since released an edited transcript and full audio of the discussion. 

“In light of frequent rhetoric about students being ‘snowflakes’ who try to prevent controversial speech from being heard and hide from real disagreements, it is ironic that the Treasury Secretary was apparently too fearful to let this video—which included heckling and profanity but also hard-hitting questions from students—see the light of day,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs.  “While as an invited speaker Secretary Mnuchin had every right to be heard, the audience members who attended this event were equally entitled to their right to boisterous protest. Secretary Mnuchin’s reneging of his prior agreement with UCLA flies in the face of accepted standards of government transparency and the overall spirit of Constitutional principles he as a government official has sworn to uphold.”

PEN America’s 2016 report, And Campus For All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities, addresses the need for campuses to remain sites for vocal debate and disagreement, and argues that efforts to advance campus inclusion and diversity can and must coexist with robust defenses for free speech. Since the report’s publication and over the course of 2017-2018, PEN America has worked with numerous public and private college campuses, including the University of California-Berkeley, Middlebury College, and the University of Maryland, College Park, to facilitate cross-cutting discussion between diverse students, faculty, and staff around these themes.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open 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.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: