Penn has been rated one of the best schools for free speech.
In a May 23 Huffington Post article, Penn was praised as one of the seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech by Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Penn, along with other schools including Dartmouth College and Arizona State University, was commended because its policies “at least nominally protect speech that would be protected by the First Amendment” and because it has not seen any serious incidents of censorship for at least several years, according to the article.
“Penn’s written policies do not prohibit protected speech, whereas the other Ivy League schools [other than Darmouth] all do have such policies,” FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy and 2002 Penn Law School graduate Samantha Harris wrote in an email.
Penn’s Guidelines on Open Expression outline “the University’s official support for the free exchange of ideas and opinions on campus, the rules under which that exchange is expected to occur, and the procedures for dealing with violations of these rules,” wrote Ajay Nair, senior associate vice provost for Student Affairs, in an email.
“Free and open debate are critical to the mission of most liberal arts colleges and universities,” Harris wrote. “When students and faculty fear punishment for engaging in controversial expression, debate is stifled and learning compromised.”
As the guidelines state, “the University of Pennsylvania, as a community of scholars, affirms, supports and cherishes the concepts of freedom of thought, inquiry, speech and lawful assembly.”
The guidelines also establish the Committee on Open Expression, a 13-member standing committee of the University Council with faculty, student, administration and A3 representation.
Although the Committee is responsible for preventing violations of the Guidelines, Wharton doctoral student and committee member Gastón de los Reyes said the committee did not meet once in the 2010-2011 academic year.
According to Nair, the Guidelines on Open Expression were written in the late 1960s in response to student fears that their rights to free speech and assembly were being violated by campus and non-University officials.
Penn was not always a bastion for free speech. The 1993 “water buffalo” incident — in which then-College freshman Eden Jacobowitz was charged under Penn’s Code of Conduct with racial harassment for the phrase he yelled at a group of black sorority women — was one of the cases that inspired the founding of FIRE — a nonprofit committed to protecting freedom of speech at colleges and universities — according to Lukianoff’s article.
Free speech has provoked controversy recently at Penn. On April 20, the day after Liberal and Professional Studies student Christopher Abreu wrote a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column on his experience as a victim of racism, Penn President Amy Gutmann joined hands with over 200 students in a silent protest against racism on College Green.
Penn previously received a green-light rating from FIRE, along with 400 American colleges.
In January, FIRE’s list of 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech included Yale University.