(NEW YORK)— American University released new policies this week that PEN America said today undermine free expression, including banning protests inside university buildings; requiring posters to “promote inclusivity” and include only logistical information; and requiring student clubs to change membership rules to be “welcoming” to all students.

In response, PEN America’s Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager on the Free Expression and Education team, said: “Clamping down on free expression in the name of inclusion is an insult to both ideals. Bans on all protests inside all buildings, entreaties for posters to ‘promote inclusivity’ without defining what that means, and vague new membership requirements for student clubs will serve no purpose other than to limit the terms of open discourse at a time when dialogue is more important than ever.”

The new rules will be in effect at least through the end of the spring semester, at which point they will be reassessed.

The change comes on the heels of several incidents in which students and faculty were subject to antisemitic and Islamophobic harassment. A Jewish advocacy group has filed a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights, claiming that the university is a hostile environment for Jewish and Israeli students. The private university has restructured part of their core curriculum to address antisemitism and Islamophobia and has partnered with the school’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab to educate faculty and students about extremism and dialogue across difference.

“We admire AU’s critical steps to combat hate on campus via education and student support, and we agree that protests should not be allowed to disrupt core university functions, like classes or speaking engagements. But the new policies, as written, will chill broad swaths of speech from all ends of the political spectrum,” said Shahverdian. “Private universities may not be legally bound by the First Amendment, but their policies ought to hew closely to it in order to protect academic freedom and open dialogue. We are disappointed to see AU veer away from this principle and into censorship. Doing so will not protect students from noxious ideas, but they will suppress speech on campus – for everyone.”

About PEN America

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.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057