Go-To Digital Guide to Campus Free Speech

Permanent Free Speech Wall in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. courtesy of Daniel Rothamel under CC BY 2.0

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.” I saw hate in a graveyard, Stephen Fry, The Guardian, 5 June 2005”

As the U.S. lurches into what promises to be a vitriolic campaign season, battles over free speech on campus are simmering again. Students, administrators, and faculty are certain to find themselves at the vortex of a national conversation on threats to free speech and how to address them.

To avert censorship on campus and prevent free speech controversies from causing turmoil, PEN America just published a first-of-its-kind digital resource, the PEN America Campus Free Speech Guide. The guide provides step-by-step instructions for scenarios involving invited speakers, academic freedom, hateful expression, and campus protests, among other topics. The online resource is rooted in PEN America’s own Principles on Campus Free Speech and the organization’s extensive research on campus free speech issues. The guide provides a concrete, accessible reference for how to cope with speech-related challenges in the classroom, on the quad, and online.

“Now more than ever, university leaders and students need a go-to resource to understand how to protect free speech and keep their communities open and thriving,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s campus free speech project. “For the past three years, PEN America has been working with administrators, faculty, students, and staff across the country. This guide brings together their collective wisdom, and aims to fill their need for detailed, actionable guidance on how to balance protections for free speech on campus with efforts to advance diversity and inclusion. We hope the guide serves as a starting to place to inform campus stakeholders not only about the law, but also about best practices for how to promote dialogue, encourage the free exchange of ideas, and ensure an inclusive environment where all community members have opportunities to be heard.”

PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Guide walks users through some of the thorniest campus speech scenarios. It offers case studies on how to address hateful speech; a legal roadmap for public and private universities to adhere to the First Amendment and uphold precepts of academic freedom; a resource library stocked with advice, sample policies, and sample statements; and FAQs specifically designed to answer the questions of administrators, faculty, and students.

“Since we began our campus speech work, educators across the country have been crying out for a roadmap to help them navigate clashes that can erupt into violence and destroy careers,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “Our university campuses are crucial breeding grounds for the broadest range of ideas and opinions. This guide offers concrete tools and methods to help them stay that way, while dealing constructively with inevitable clashes of opinions and values. Building on years of research and consultation, we are moving beyond finger-pointing over curbs on speech to advance concrete solutions that enable everyone on campus to have their say.”

EVENT THIS EVENING  / 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time / New York / Free and Open to the Public but seating is limited / Registration Required

The launch of this new resource coincides with a panel event at NYU on September 26, “Campus at a Crossroads: Free Speech, Truth, and Democracy in an Election Year.” Co-sponsored by PEN America and New York University’s Center for the Humanities and Institute for Public Knowledge, the panel will bring together academics, writers, and students for a discussion of debates over free speech, truth, and the university. Read more about the event here.


This post is courtesy of PEN America, The Guardian, Wikipedia, and my bookshelf.  The Poet by Day actively supports freedom of speech and artistic expression and human rights.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions 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.


pen_american_center_official_logoYesterday,Tuesday, January 24, President Trump issued orders to several federal agencies to cease all communications with Congress, the press, and the public. PEN America decried the orders.

“This action is incompatible with American democratic values of government transparency and the public’s right to know,” PEN America statement

Multiple sources inside the government have told the press that the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Health and Human Services, ordered employees to cease external communications, including press releases, blog and social media posts and correspondence with other public officials.

Federal employees have expressed concern that the communications blackouts will impede work, disrupt communication across branches of the government and leave the public in the dark.

“Blanket orders from the Trump Administration preventing the staffs and experts of federal agencies from communicating with the public send a chilling message that every governmental communication, no matter how routine or technical, will now be subject to a political litmus test,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America.

“Federal officials are being cut off from the American public, impairing their work and denying the American citizenry access to necessary information and understanding about the work of our federal government. These blunderbuss and draconian measures infringe upon free expression and the flow of information and ideas, imposing constraints that befit an autocracy, not American democracy. They should be rescinded immediately.” Suzanne Nossel

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. PEN champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. It’s mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Public domain illustration.


HEADS-UP CALIFORNIA: Protect Free Speech, Right to Boycott, Peninsula Peace & Justice Center, action alert


Bill in Sacramento Threatens Freedom of Speech, Right to Boycott
 AB 2844

“Engaging in an economic boycott of “any sovereign nation or people recognized by the government of the United States” — like the anti-apartheid boycotts of South Africa in the 1980s — could become a felony under a proposed state law currently making its way through the legislature.

“The bill — AB 2844 — is due to be taken up by the Senate Appropriations Committee in two weeks. Two local state senators serve on that committee. Sign the letter to urge Jerry Hill or Jim Beall to vote no.

“While AB 2844 refers to “any … nation”, it goes on to say, “including but not limited to Israel.” And that’s the real motive behind this bill: To kill the growing Boycott, Diversment and Sanction (BDS) campaign aimed at ending Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.” PEACE ACTION more here including information, editorials and legislative contact for your more informed decision-making and action.

– Thanks to Peace Action and Connie S. for this alert.