NEW YORK—In response to a decision last night by the University of California at Berkeley to cancel a planned campus appearance by conservative commentator Ann Coulter, PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel released the following statement:  

“The responsibility of university officials to ensure physical safety on campus is paramount. It is understandable that in the aftermath of violent incidents, concerns and caution are intensified. But the duty to ensure that a diverse range of views, including those that some find offensive and even menacing, is also fundamental to the role of the university. For the University of California at Berkeley to declare a week ahead of time that maintaining safety and security in relation to Ann Coulter’s planned appearance on campus is impossible amounts to an unacceptable abdication of the crucial role of the university as an open forum for intellectual and ideological exploration. If the possibility of violence, or even threats of violence, are grounds to shut down speech, the marketplace of ideas will be stripped bare, to the detriment of speakers, listeners, and critics. Pushing ideas off campus or underground will not shut down controversial viewpoints. The university, with the help of police, student organizers, and protest groups has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that all voices can be heard, that no speech is shut down or excluded, and that violence is prevented and punished. We call on the Berkeley Administration to redouble its efforts to ensure that Coulter’s appearance can take place, while accommodating protesters and, as appropriate, continuing to articulate and defend the values of the university as a diverse and inclusive intellectual community.”

PEN America detailed a set of guidelines relating to questions of free speech on campus, including invitations to controversial campus speakers and protests, in “The PEN America Principles on Campus Speech” which form part of part of PEN America’s 2016 report And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion and Free Speech at American Universities.

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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
Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646.779.4830