(NEW YORK) – The decision by Barnard College to quietly rewrite policy to prohibit departments from posting “political statements” appears to be an effort to suppress speech, PEN America said today.

The policy was rewritten after a Palestinian solidarity statement was removed by the college from the website of the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. The college also wrote that website content “may be amended or removed without notice.” The move was criticized by faculty for circumventing faculty governance.

“The swift rollout of these new website policies, without faculty consultation, makes plain that they are a response to pro-Palestinian speech that someone wanted to suppress,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America. “The context surrounding this policy adoption cannot be ignored.”

In addition to the new website policy, Barnard has experienced turmoil and debates about free expression following student protests in response to the Israel-Hamas war since the fall. The administration has been accused of instituting and retroactively applying new policies, including a new ban on flags hanging out of dorm room windows and a policy requiring protests be organized 28 days in advance in order to be approved.  Barnard president Laura Rosenbury has said the administration is working with faculty to “refine” these campus policies.

The website policy also comes amid nationwide debates surrounding institutional and departmental neutrality in higher education.

“It is not unreasonable for institutions to want to distinguish between the official views of an institution or department and those of individual faculty,” Friedman continued. “Doing so, in fact, can be protective of academic freedom. Faculty and students should not be presumed nor pressured to agree with any specific viewpoints, and academic departments also have a duty to convey throughout their communications that they are home to a diverse array of opinions and that, regardless of background or viewpoints, students and faculty will be welcomed and treated equally. But administrators should be working with faculty to create thoughtful policies that keep intellectual and academic freedom for all top of mind – not hastily imposing rules that may unduly limit speech.”

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