(New York)—The recent settlement of a federal lawsuit against the University of Florida is a reminder that campuses must be thoughtful in maintaining content-neutral policies towards speech, PEN America said in a statement today. 

On July 31, the University of Florida (UF) settled a federal lawsuit brought by a conservative student group claiming the school violated the group’s right to free speech. The student group, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), brought the suit in December, alleging that the university discriminated against the group in the disbursement of student fees. The UF Student Government first denied the YAF chapter’s request to become a fully budgeted student organization, and then subsequently adopted a new policy preventing “non-budgeted” groups from requesting funds for outside speakers. Because YAF was the only non-budgeted organization to request funds for outside speakers in recent years, the organization claimed that the move was a deliberate attempt to prevent them from inviting conservative speakers to campus. In the settlement, the university agreed to pay $66,000 to the YAF chapter and to make changes to its policies guiding how funds are allocated to student groups. 

“Student groups must be treated equally on campus and given the same opportunities to invite outside speakers,” said Jonathan Friedman, project director for campus free speech at PEN America. “Even ostensibly-neutral policies run the risk of chilling students’ free expression rights if they are applied in a way that discriminates against some viewpoints. Bodies that dole out funds for student groups should not have unbridled discretion to choose which views to support, but should uphold the university’s role as a site of debate and open inquiry. The outcome in this case represents an important step in ensuring that the campus remains a space where the opportunity to voice a diversity of perspectives is protected.”

PEN America has previously examined the importance of free expression, academic freedom, and open inquiry on college campuses in our 2019 report, Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America


Contact: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892

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. http://www.pen.org