This semester, the Presidential Commission on Countering Hate and Building Community asked the AAUP-Penn Executive Committee to meet with them to share perspectives and recommendations. We responded by sending the commission all of our statements issued this year, accompanied by the list of recommendations shared here.

This morning on April 12, 2024, we met with the commission to answer questions about these recommendations. As you’ll see, these recommendations are based on the discussions we’ve had in our membership meetings this year, and they distill key recommendations of our past statements. We encourage you to read and share them widely, and we welcome your thoughts.

On Thursday, February 8th, the Executive Committee of AAUP–Penn responded to yet another campaign of targeted harassment directed against a Penn colleague, Annenberg faculty member Dwayne Booth, with the aim of silencing and punishing him for protected extramural speech. We encourage all faculty to read and circulate this message. We also commend the many faculty members who have stood up to defend the principles of academic freedom and have resisted calls for the university to discipline Booth.

We note that we sent this letter five days ago to the President, Provost, General Counsel, Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees, Chair of the Committee on Open Expression, Chair of the Faculty Senate, and Chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom.  We have received no response.

Interim President Larry Jameson
Provost John Jackson
Tulia Falleti, Chair, Faculty Senate
Raina Merchant, Chair, SCAFR
Wendy White, General Counsel
Lisa Bellini, Chair, Committee on Open Expression
Ramanan Raghavendran, Chair, Board of Trustees
Julie Beren Platt, Vice Chair, Board of Trustees

Dear Colleagues,

We write to express our concern about the targeted harassment of Annenberg faculty member Dwayne Booth, as well as Interim President Jameson’s dangerous and unwarranted response to it. Both constitute serious threats to academic freedom and to Penn’s own written policies.

The targeted harassment of Booth was instigated by the Washington Free Beacon, a publication known for political provocation whose activities conform to a well-known pattern: it singled out a faculty member who had criticized the war in Gaza and portrayed him as an antisemite, which predictably generated threats of personal violence against him and calls for the university to discipline him. In publishing the date of Booth’s next class, the newspaper endangered the physical safety of both Booth and his students.

Such harassment must be understood and publicly condemned as a threat to academic freedom, which includes the right of faculty to freedom in extramural speech—that is, speech made as a member of the public on issues of general concern. Penn’s Faculty Handbook, drawing on the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles, contains strong protections for extramural speech: “When speaking or writing as an individual, the teacher should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” This policy applies equally to all faculty members, whether tenure-track or non-tenure track. By definition, extramural speech does not constitute grounds for discipline except in the extremely rare case where such speech demonstrates that a faculty member is unfit to do the teaching and research that their job entails. The only way to make that determination is through a careful, formal review of the colleague’s entire record by their fellow faculty members in accordance with AAUP principles and the Faculty Handbook.

The purpose of targeted harassment is to intimidate all faculty into silence and to goad universities into violating their own policies on academic freedom by condemning and disciplining faculty for protected speech. Administrators, to act in the best interest of their institutions, must resist all such pressure. The national AAUP’s position is clear: “The AAUP urges administrations, governing boards, and faculties, individually and collectively, to speak out clearly and forcefully to defend academic freedom and to condemn targeted harassment and intimidation of faculty members.”

Unfortunately, Interim President Jameson has endangered academic freedom by publicly condemning Booth’s political cartoons as “reprehensible” and suggesting that he should not have published them. Jameson’s public rebuke of a faculty member for protected extramural speech imperils the academic freedom of every faculty member at Penn, and it adds fuel to the fire started by those who are actively campaigning to damage our university’s reputation and to destabilize its basic academic functioning. It gives all of us reason to wonder whether the Interim President respects the university’s own written policies, and under what circumstances he might violate them outright.

To be clear: any attempt to discipline Booth for protected extramural speech, and any attempt to do so unilaterally—denying him due process—would constitute unambiguous violations of Penn’s Faculty Handbook and the principles of academic freedom. Such action would result in an investigation of the University of Pennsylvania by the national AAUP.

We share with you guidance for administrators from Faculty First Responders, a resource created with support from the national AAUP by scholars who have studied targeted harassment as one key element of organized attacks on higher education in recent years. As their guidance makes clear, it is dangerous and self-defeating for administrators to condemn faculty members who are subject to targeted harassment:

[R]ight-wing outlets are waging a culture war against higher education in general. They are not concerned with the specifics of what happens on your campus. In fact, they will be outraged whatever you do. And, likewise, they will soon forget about this story and move on to the next one. So will the online trolls, angry alumni, and others who, in the moment, might appear to be deeply concerned about this issue. Your faculty, staff, students, and community, however, will remember how you respond to these attacks for years to come. Therefore, a strong, public defense not only demonstrates true academic leadership but also likely earns the support and gratitude of the campus community.

The fundamental duty of the university administration in a time of war and political conflict is to protect academic freedom. That means reminding the university community and the wider public in clear, unequivocal terms that faculty members’ extramural speech is protected and that harassment will not be tolerated.

We are closely monitoring this case and reporting it to the national office of the AAUP.

Executive Committee, AAUP-Penn

CC: Sarah Banet-Weiser, Dean, Annenberg School for Communication
Litty Paxton, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, Annenberg School for Communication
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director, Annenberg Public Policy Center

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On January 22, 2024, Penn faculty, students, graduate workers, staff, and allies from across campus, across local higher ed unions, and across Philly stood out in the cold together to rally for the basic principles that make a university a university: academic freedom, shared institutional governance that represents us all, open expression, and equity and diversity, all of which enable higher education to serve the purpose of generating new knowledge for the public good. “Universities don’t exist to serve private interests,” as AAUP–Penn President Amy Offner said in her opening remarks; “They are not tools for the business interests or political agendas of donors and trustees.’”

The lineup of speakers—including tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty from many departments and schools across Penn from Arts & Sciences to SP2 and from Wharton to Veterinary Medicine, as well as undergraduate students, medical students, grad workers in GET-UP, and colleagues and allies from other universities—spoke out powerfully in support of academic freedom and shared governance, open expression, and diversity and equity, all of which are under assault across the U.S. and at our own university.

Without academic freedom, higher education is impossible. This right—a right defined by the American Association of University Professors from its founding in 1915 and won through past mobilizations by faculty across higher education—has long been enshrined in Penn’s policies, but it is not self-enforcing. That is why so many members of the Penn community have committed to standing together in solidarity to insist that the freedom to teach is essential to the freedom to learn, and to claim academic freedom and practice it as a collective right.

Yesterday’s public demonstration marked the start of a campaign by faculty across the University of Pennsylvania not just to beat back the current assault by billionaire CEOs, trustees, and politicians, but to fight for and win positive institutional changes that will strengthen academic freedom and the forms of job security meant to protect it and that will democratize our university’s governing structures in order to make the freedom to teach and learn a reality for all of us who study and teach at Penn.

You can read press coverage from the DP here and from the Philadelphia Inquirer here.

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Take action and spread the word:

Penn is currently applying for reaccreditation—and to be accredited, universities must demonstrate adherence to principles of academic freedom, freedom of expression, faculty governance, and diversity. The recent actions of unelected trustees and donors have put the University’s accreditation at serious risk. A letter circulated among the trustees by a private equity billionaire suggests that they might unilaterally close departments, change hiring criteria (with the aim of destroying diversity and equity initiatives), and impose a speech code to discipline students and faculty for political expression. Attempts by donors and trustees with no academic qualifications to control curriculum and research, silence speech that they disagree with, shutter departments, interfere in faculty hiring, and end DEI policies are an assault on higher education, and they clearly threaten Penn’s accreditation.

The accreditation process gives us an opportunity to act. 

We are calling on all colleagues, allies across higher education, and concerned members of the public to participate in the comment period between now and January 12.

Allies beyond Penn and members of the public who want to defend students’ right to learn and preserve the university’s educational mission: Submit a Third-Party Comment to the accrediting agency (MSCHE) to express your concerns; see below for a sample message. Comments are due January 12, 2024.

Penn faculty, staff, and students: Write to Penn’s Self-Study Steering Committee, which is charged with writing a report to the external accrediting agency.  Comments are due by January 12, 2024:

  • Urge them to tell the truth in their report to the accrediting agency (MSCHE): academic freedom, shared governance, open expression, and DEI policies are gravely endangered at Penn and must be strengthened. The accreditation process is an instrument of accountability: we must use it. (The current draft of the report does not contain a single mention of “academic freedom.”)
  • See below for a sample message.

Please share this call widely with all those who care about the future of higher education. We ask everyone—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the public—to submit comments and sound the alarm:

Penn must uphold the principles of academic freedom and shared governance in order to retain its accreditation, and to remain a university in anything more than name.

Below is a sample message you can use when you submit your comment:

Sample message on accreditation:

I write to express my grave concern that Penn’s accreditation is threatened by donors, trustees, and administrators who are attempting to undermine academic freedom, shared governance, open expression, and DEI policies at the university.

Penn’s self-study must tell the truth about the crisis at our university: academic freedom, shared governance, and open expression have already been compromised, and Apollo CEO Marc Rowan’s recent questions to the Penn trustees raise the specter of their total destruction.  To preserve the educational and research mission of the university, we must use the reaccreditation process as intended: it must be an instrument of accountability.

Penn’s self-study must clearly state that the following principles and standards required by Penn’s accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, are gravely endangered at the university today:

  • “academic freedom, intellectual freedom, freedom of expression”
  • “fair and impartial practices in the hiring, evaluation, promotion, discipline, and separation of employees”
  • “student learning experiences that are designed, delivered, and assessed by faculty”
  • “a general education program that…offers a sufficient scope to draw students into new areas of intellectual experience, expanding their cultural and global awareness and cultural sensitivity”
  • “graduate…opportunities for the development of research, scholarship, and independent thinking, provided by faculty and/or other professionals with credentials appropriate to graduate-level curricula”
  • “a climate that fosters respect among students, faculty, staff, and administration from a range of diverse backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives”
  • “a clearly articulated and transparent governance structure that outlines roles, responsibilities, and accountability for decision making by each constituency, including governing body, administration, faculty, staff and students”

The AAUP-Penn Executive Committee, as well as national news outlets, have documented numerous threats to these principles and standards. To name just a few:

The accreditation process presents us with an opportunity to defend and strengthen the principles of academic freedom, faculty governance, open expression, and diversity and equity.  It presents us with an opportunity to stand up to the threats of donors who neither understand nor respect the educational and research mission of the university.  We must use this opportunity to ensure a strong faculty voice in the governance of the university, protect the integrity of research and teaching, and safeguard policies that promote diversity and equity.



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December 12, 2023

Today, unelected trustees with no academic expertise are evidently attempting a hostile takeover of the core academic functions of the University of Pennsylvania—functions related to curriculum, research, and the hiring and evaluation of faculty. A letter circulated to trustees asks, “Should any of the existing academic departments be closed?” It seems to propose unilateral changes by trustees to “instruction of students,” changes in “criteria for qualification and admission for membership in the Faculty,” and a “Code of Conduct” to constrain campus speech. And it raises the possibility that the university might discipline faculty for “promoting a particular viewpoint.”  

The questions being considered by the trustees represent an assault on the principle of academic freedom, which was first articulated a century ago to safeguard the educational mission of universities.  Academic freedom ensures that professionally qualified researchers and educators, not donors or politicians, make decisions about curriculum and scholarship. It also ensures that the hiring, promotion, and discipline of faculty members are based on their fitness to do the work of research and teaching, and that fitness is determined by members of the academic profession.  These norms are necessary to ensure that the university can serve its fundamental purpose: to foster free and open inquiry that can produce knowledge for the public good in a democratic society.  They prevent institutions of higher education from being turned into instruments that serve private and political interests. Over the course of a century, these principles have been endorsed by over 250 scholarly and educational organizations and written into the faculty handbooks of universities nationwide, including Penn’s.

Unelected billionaires without scholarly qualifications are now seeking to control academic decisions that must remain within the purview of faculty in order for research and teaching to have legitimacy and autonomy from private and partisan interests. Any attempts on the part of Penn’s trustees to close academic departments, constrain hiring, discipline faculty members for political reasons and without due process, censor faculty’s intramural or extramural speech, or impose new McCarthyite speech codes on faculty and students would constitute the most flagrant violations imaginable of the core principles of academic freedom and faculty governance. Those principles are not negotiable.

The transparent purposes of the questions being considered by the trustees are to restrict legitimate, long-established areas of study, to silence and punish speech with which trustees disagree, and to turn back the clock on gains in diversity and equity.

The AAUP-Penn Executive Committee first sounded the alarm on such threats to academic freedom in October.  We issued the following recommendations, and we stand by them today.

  • It is likely that donors and administrators will attempt to respond to the present crisis by creating new academic programming—whether new hiring, curricular offerings, or research initiatives. Faculty must design and control any such effort rather than allow donors to set the terms.
  • When interacting with the university and its members, Penn’s trustees, alumni, and donors must be held to the same university policies that govern the rest of us, particularly policies prohibiting threats, coercion, retaliation, and intimidation. The statutes of the Board of Trustees and all university policies should be revised to reflect that expectation.
  • Those trustees and members of advisory boards who have made coercive threats against members of the university and academic programs within Penn have already violated the Guidelines on Open Expression, to which they are expressly bound. We recommend that they be removed from all university advisory and governance boards.

Trustees who neither understand nor respect the purpose of the university and who threaten its educational and research mission should not govern these institutions.

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December 9, 2023

In recent months, trustees, donors, lobbying organizations, and members of Congress have repeatedly misrepresented the words and deeds of Penn faculty and students who have expressed concern for Palestinian civilians and criticized the war in Gaza, going so far as to suggest that faculty who have publicly condemned Hamas were Hamas supporters and that groups protesting genocide were calling for genocide. These distortions and attacks on our colleagues have not addressed the scourge of antisemitism—a real and grave problem. Instead, they have threatened the ability of faculty and students to research, teach, study, and publicly discuss the history, politics, and cultures of Israel and Palestine. These attacks strike at the heart of the mission of an educational institution: to foster open, critical, and rigorous research and teaching that can produce knowledge for the public good in a democratic society.

The ability of donors, lobbying groups, and members of Congress to destabilize the University of Pennsylvania reveals the need to restore a strong faculty voice in the governance of the institution. The next president must defend the principles of shared governance and academic freedom, which protect the educational mission of the university. And they must correct what has become a dangerous myth suggesting that the defense of academic freedom and open expression is in any way contradictory to the fight against antisemitism. We intend to see that Penn’s next president lives up to this responsibility.

For further information, please see past statements of the AAUP-Penn Executive Committee:

  1. Statement on Threats to Academic Freedom, University Governance, and Safety at the University of Pennsylvania, October 28
  2. Letter on Targeted Harassment, November 20
  3. Urgent message regarding film screening and threats to academic freedom, November 28
  4. Message on the Dec. 5 Congressional hearing, Dec. 6
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The AAUP–Penn Executive Committee issued the following message (also linked here as a PDF) today, November 28:

Dear Members,

The AAUP-Penn Executive Committee is deeply concerned to learn that the Penn administration has refused to allow a Jewish student organization, Penn Chavurah, to reserve a room this semester to screen Israelism, a documentary film about young Jewish Americans who have traveled to Israel and Palestine and developed critical perspectives on Israeli government policies. The administration’s refusal to allow students to screen a documentary film on campus is one more expression of our university leadership’s failure to uphold the principles of academic freedom—principles enshrined in Penn’s policies and essential to the mission of a university. Academic freedom entails the freedom of students to learn, and to encounter and critically examine multiple interpretations of the world. Students’ freedom to learn also entails their right to political speech and association, which are essential aspects of education and learning. In denying students these freedoms, the university administration violates its own policies and endangers the principles of academic freedom that are essential to the research and teaching mission of a university.

The Executive Committee commends our colleagues at the Middle East Center for reserving a room for the film screening, which as of now will take place tonight, November 28 at 6:30 p.m. in Meyerson Hall Room B1. We encourage all faculty members to attend to demonstrate their support for academic freedom. Should the screening site be moved, we will do our best to notify members. 

We are also gravely concerned by reports that administrators have allegedly told the Middle East Center to cancel the screening, and have allegedly informed Penn Chavurah that the group might lose its status or funding if tonight’s screening occurs

We are alarmed to learn that in response to this inappropriate pressure from administrators, the director of the Middle East Center submitted his resignation today. His resignation underlines the gravity of the crisis, and the responsibility the President and Provost have for creating and exacerbating it.  

We condemn in the strongest possible terms any pressure by administrators, donors, and trustees to prevent the Middle East Center from reserving a room to screen a documentary film that falls squarely within the Center’s area of expertise. It is the right of faculty members to make academic programming decisions.  We are particularly concerned that the Middle East Center has already lost its federal funding because the university failed to provide adequate support for its activities. Any further threats to the Center’s ability to fulfill its academic mission will only hurt our university, our faculty, and our students.

We have reported these concerns about academic freedom to the national office of the AAUP. We encourage departments, programs, and the Faculty Senate to speak out against this effort to suppress academic freedom.

— AAUP-Penn Executive Committee

AAUP-Penn Nov 28 Message on MEC Film Screening and Further Threats to Academic Freedom

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This spring, we have been inspired by the growth of union organizing at Penn. Resident advisors who work in the dorms filed for a union election in March; graduate research assistants and teaching assistants in GET-UP went public with their organizing drive in April; and residents at Penn Medicine won their union election in May. Meanwhile, Penn Museum Workers United is pushing ahead with their campaign to win a first contract.

The university administration has launched anti-union campaigns in response to all these mobilizations and is now trying to enlist faculty in anti-union activity.  Just last week, all standing faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences received an email from administrators directing us to websites that present anti-union talking points for us to pass along to graduate student workers.  It is wrong for the administration to attempt to make us conduits for anti-union messages. Moreover, it is wrong for the administration to run anti-union campaigns at all.

Our Response

This week we delivered a letter to administrators calling on them to take down all anti-union websites and end the anti-union campaigns. We hope you’ll read and share it.

Together over the next several months, we will work to educate colleagues about anti-union campaigns to make sure that we do not pass along anti-union messages. As many of us know, anti-union campaigns can be subtle: employers present their communications as purportedly neutral answers to frequently asked questions.  As a result, even faculty who support unions might not immediately recognize these websites for what they are.  

To educate ourselves and our colleagues, we have created an annotated version of the Provost’s guidance to faculty. Please read it, share it with colleagues, and stay tuned for upcoming information sessions and opportunities to get involved. 

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Our friends and colleagues in Penn Museum Workers United (AFSCME DC47 Local 397) are currently negotiating their first contract. They have waited long enough to do so (having organized in May 2021 and endured a relentless anti-union campaign), and there is a lot at stake: above all, wages that would allow them to live in dignity in Philadelphia. A third of PMWU members earn between $15.75 and $20 per hour; they are underpaid compared with their counterparts at other museums, as well as with Penn library workers who perform similar types of work and with Penn housekeeping workers in Teamsters Local 115. If the Museum can afford to spend $100 million on capital projects, it seems clear that it can also afford to pay its workers fairly. In fact, we believe that it can’t afford not to do so. It is in the interest of the institution to retain talented staff and prevent the high rates of turnover and instability that currently result from inadequate pay.

On June 4th, AAUP–Penn’s Executive Committee sent a letter to Penn President Liz Magill, Penn Museum Director Chris Woods, and Penn Museum Chief Operating Officer Genny Boccardo-Dubey calling on Museum management to accept the reasonable wage proposals of our colleagues in PMWU. You can read our letter below.

We stand in solidarity with Penn Museum workers, and we are committed to seeing that the University and the Museum meet their demands and negotiate a fair contract.

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Penn housekeepers, grounds workers, and transportation workers in Teamsters Local 115 are celebrating a hard-fought contract victory. A campaign led by rank-and-file members won an end to the inequitable two-tier wage system that pays different hourly rates for the same work. Their new contract will phase out two-tier pay over a 5-year period, with annual raises between 3.5–4% putting all housekeepers on a progression to the top-level wage ($28.68/hr) by 2026.

This is a tremendous win in a fight taking place at so many workplaces for equal pay for equal work. Bargaining surveys, rallies at the union hall and on campus, flyers and messaging in multiple languages, outreach to new members, and the determination to vote no if necessary made it happen. Member-led organizing gets the goods! Our warmest congratulations to the Teamsters 115 members who didn’t back down on their core demand and showed us all what’s possible. Solidarity!

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