Program Assistant, Freedom to Learn

PEN America, a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of literature and human rights, seeks a proactive, energetic, and organized program assistant to support higher education advocacy and coalition-building efforts in our Freedom to Learn program. This is a full-time position based in Washington, D.C. and reports to the senior manager, Freedom to Learn. Candidates in New York City will also be considered.

The program assistant will provide administrative and logistical support for the advocacy and coalition-building work of PEN America’s Freedom to Learn program, which defends higher education institutions against educational gag orders and other forms of government censorship. This work will involve communicating with, and organizing in-person and virtual convenings of, key stakeholders from the Freedom to Learn team’s existing coalitions – the Freedom to Learn network of higher education associations and the Champions of Higher Education initiative of former college and university presidents – as well as new state-level coalitions to be convened in at least five targeted states. Responsibilities will include planning events, managing schedules and email communications, and supporting a sector-wide defense of the freedom to learn in higher education. 

The successful candidate will have interest in and understanding of free expression issues in the higher education sector, along with at least one year of experience in project management/coordination, event planning, advocacy, or other relevant professional experience. The position involves frequent interactions with high-profile higher education leaders, and requires advanced skills in prompt, careful, polished, and courteous communication. The program assistant will have an opportunity to make a critical difference on a growing team that has become a national nexus of free expression and higher education advocacy.

In alignment with PEN America’s current policy, all applicants should be available to report to the office at least three days per week. This policy is subject to change.


  • Coordinate meetings and communications for a group of high-profile higher education leaders
  • Facilitate communications, check-ins, convenings, and email listservs for networks of higher education leaders nationally and in affected states 
  • Organize logistics for virtual and in-person summits and gatherings
  • Carry out administrative tasks for the senior manager and program director, Freedom to Learn, including calendar management and scheduling of meetings, recordkeeping and expense tracking, deliverable tracking, and responding to information requests
  • Manage team meeting schedules, email lists, and email software
  • Develop positive relationships with higher education leaders and stakeholders involved in PEN America’s coalitions and initiatives
  • Communicate effectively to a variety of audiences about issues of free speech, academic freedom, and educational censorship
  • Support and advance PEN America’s mission to safeguard free expression in the United States and abroad

All PEN America staff are considered to be stakeholders in the development of our shared organization. As such, staff play a role in varied activities within the workplace as part of their job responsibilities. These may include committees or task forces to work on office issues, diversity and inclusion, strategy projects, training or other initiatives.


  • Bachelor’s degree plus a minimum of one year of relevant professional experience, preferably in the higher education, event planning, advocacy, or project management/coordination sectors
  • Understanding of and interest in contemporary debates on free expression, particularly on college campuses
  • Energetic, prompt, and skilled at multitasking in a fast-paced environment; strong administrative and project management skills, including attention to detail
  • Polished, meticulous, and impeccably courteous written and verbal communication skills
  • Familiarity with and active interest in using Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, email communication or advocacy alert software, Zoom, Slack, Asana or other project management software, and/or graphic design software
  • Comfort and effectiveness with organizing convenings and events; professional experience in this area a plus
  • Ability to travel an estimated 10% of the time, with availability to work some nights and weekends as necessary in relation to travel
  • Commitment to PEN America’s mission, centered on the celebration and defense of free expression for all. Willingness to defend the right to engage in speech that may be offensive and discomfiting and that reflects a wide range of political opinions and ideologies. PEN America promotes open and respectful dialogue across differences, and we work to allow a diversity of perspectives to flourish.
  • Commitment to PEN America’s advocacy and support for writers, artists and their allies around the world, without regard to the ideology or actions of their country’s government

Salary and Benefits: PEN America offers competitive compensation and full benefits. The salary range for this position is $45k-50k, commensurate with experience. Candidates whose expectations are outside this range are welcome to apply, as PEN America is open to considering talented individuals at varying stages of their careers. PEN America’s benefits package includes medical, dental, and vision health insurance, paid time off, 10 paid holidays, pre-tax commuter benefits and a 403b retirement plan.


Please submit a cover letter, resume, and unedited writing sample to [email protected]. Use “Program Assistant, Freedom to Learn” with your name as the subject of your email (for example, “Program Assistant, Freedom to Learn – Jane Doe”). Please also share where you heard about this position in the body of your email. Only complete applications will be reviewed, and only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

PEN America is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate in its hiring practices, and in order to build the strongest possible workforce, actively seeks a diverse applicant pool.

No phone calls, please. 


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