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The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression placed Penn at number 247 out of 248 schools on the free speech ranking.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn's political clubs had mixed reactions to Penn's recent second-to-last ranking out of 248 universities for free speech on college campuses.

In a recent study conducted by The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a non-profit aimed at protecting free speech on college campuses, Penn was placed at number 247 out of 248 schools on the free speech ranking, with only Harvard University ranked below, for the second year in a row.

Political Director of Penn College Republicans and College sophomore Peter Kapp said that College Republicans were “not super surprised” by the FIRE ranking.

“In College Republicans, there is a general perception that if you are vocal about a belief that is not looked upon well by the general Penn population, that could go poorly for you,” Kapp told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Kapp also mentioned his belief that conservative students have to self-censor their views more so than left-leaning students regarding political topics due to the composition of Penn’s student body.

According to the FIRE ranking, there are nearly eight liberal students for every one conservative student on Penn’s campus. Kapp’s arguments are also echoed in the FIRE ranking as Penn ranked 32nd for tolerance for liberal speakers, while ranking 220th for tolerance for conservative speakers. 

Organizing Chair for Penn Young Democratic Socialists of America and College senior Taja Mazaj spoke about free speech and censorship on Penn’s campus, but also discussed FIRE as an organization. 

“We agree that there is a problem on campus with free speech and censorship on campus but FIRE as an organization, I am not sure if we agree with their methodology” Mazaj — who is an opinion columnist at the DP — said.

In addition to political censorship on campus, Mazaj said she believes administration favors certain forms of protesting and civic engagement over others. 

“There’s only certain types of civil engagement [the University] wants to see. If your group is challenging the interests of donors or interests of the administration, or just the general fabric of the university, I think Penn will challenge that with a severe intensity,” Mazaj said, pointing to Penn's response to resident advisors' unionizing efforts as an example.

In a written statement to the DP, Penn Democrats expressed support for free speech on campus.

“Penn Dems support free speech on campus and welcomes diverse political viewpoints that promote open, fact-based dialogue. We oppose conversation that amplifies bigotry and discrimination of any kind,” Penn Dems Communication Director and College junior Nicole Giegerich said.

Both Kapp and Mazaj said that their respective groups hope to foster environments in which students feel like they have a place for free speech. 

“We market ourselves as a community where you can sort of not have to worry about that sort of self-censorship,” Kapp said.

Mazaj described YDSA as an “umbrella group” who hopes to support all endeavors of free speech, while making sure the administration is held accountable for promoting free speech.

“We are just trying to be constantly critical of the administration when they try to shut down expressions of free speech,” Mazaj said.

Moreover, Kapp said he believes students may be missing out academically due to censorship in the classroom and professors’ own political leanings.

“I think part of the value of a school like Penn is that you have a diverse student body with people from a ton of different places studying a ton of different things, and I feel like the professors should be able to reflect that there are lot of viewpoints that are accepted in America,” Kapp said. 

FIRE was cofounded in 1999 by Penn Professor Emeritus Alan Charles Kors, prompted by his involvement in a scandal regarding free speech on campus. In 2012, FIRE ranked Penn in the top seven colleges for free speech.