More than 80 Penn faculty members sent a letter to University administrators alleging that the summons of a Penn student by the Center for Community Standards and Accountability violates the University's Guidelines on Open Expression.
The letter — which was sent on Jan. 2 — expresses concern about a CSA meeting with a student, who was called for "adhering stickers to campus signs and light poles," according to the letter. The signatories allege that the meeting violates Penn’s Guidelines on Open Expression.
"We cannot comment on student disciplinary matters," a University spokesperson told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
In the letter, which was obtained by the DP, the signatories wrote that the summons of the student raises “troubling questions about the university’s adherence to anti-discrimination laws and policies.”
The letter was sent by History professor Amy Offner to Interim President Larry Jameson, Provost John Jackson Jr., Vice President for Public Safety Kathleen Shields Anderson, Chair of the Committee on Open Expression Lisa Bellini, as well as several other University administrators.
The letter says that the student’s summons is in response to the placement of stickers related to the Freedom School for Palestine teach-in, which took place in Houston Hall last semester. Dozens of Penn community members occupied the Reading Room in Houston Hall for over two weeks to advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza, protection of freedom of speech at the University, and instituting critical thought on Palestine across campus.
The student facing discipline, a College senior, told the DP that they received a notice letter from CSA on Jan. 8 pertaining to an incident occurring on or about Dec. 13, 2023. They confirmed that the stickers were related to the Freedom School for Palestine and were screenshots of a post by a Gazan journalist.
In a statement to the DP, Offner — who will serve as the student's advisor at the CSA meeting — wrote that Penn's disciplinary process entitles the student to have a faculty advisor present.
Offner wrote that faculty members have offered to serve as advisors to students facing disciplinary action or investigation for their involvement in the Freedom School.
“Since the fall, numerous faculty members from across the university have offered to serve as advisors to students in the Freedom School who have been summoned for CSA meetings on grounds that appear to violate the Guidelines on Open Expression or other university policies,” Offner wrote.
Penn’s Poster Policy states that posters should be restricted to kiosks, and states that the “mounting of posters or use of paint on walls, sidewalks, trees, benches, or other surfaces not intended for posting is prohibited.”
The letter also questions how the student was referred to CSA in the first place, stating that — according to CSA — the student was reported for investigation by the Division of Public Safety.
“We would like to know how and why the Office of Public Safety surveilled [the student],” the letter reads, stating that the Guidelines on Open Expression limit DPS activity in order to “prevent police activity from having a chilling effect on protected forms of expression.”
The student facing discipline told the DP that they were unaware of DPS monitoring them.
"This brings up questions of how [DPS] were able to identify me, and whether it was because of my political involvement on campus, which is concerning, or if it was because of my disability that makes me identifiable because I have a service dog," the student said.
The student added that they did not view the interview as an isolated incident, suggesting that it highlights an issue with the University administration's treatments of free speech and protests on campus.
"I was targeted because I am a member of the Freedom School and especially because I'm a member of the Freedom School who is especially well informed about the open expression guidelines and have been interacting with police and administration on these topics," they said.
In December 2023, more than a dozen students involved in the Freedom School were summoned for a meeting with CSA for alleged violations of University policy, according to the letter. The signatories wrote that the investigation into the student is part of a similar pattern “in which the university appears to be using the disciplinary process to silence peaceful protest.”
According to the letter, that December meeting did not result in disciplinary action for any of the students.
“We are deeply concerned that this use of the University’s disciplinary procedures will have the effect of chilling speech on campus,” the letter concluded. “We ask that the Office of Public Safety withdraw its report against [the student,] and we ask that CSA end any investigation of them.”
CSA's website states that it acts on behalf of the University for matters of student conduct violations and “works to resolve these allegations consistent with the goals and mission of the University as an educational and intellectual community.”
Senior reporter Elea Castiglione contributed reporting.
Editor’s note: Shortly after this article was published in print, a source mentioned in this article contacted the DP requesting their name be retracted from the digital article due to concerns about harassment. The request was granted after receiving approval from members of DP leadership, following our company-wide policy on retractions outlined here.