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.

Sincerely,
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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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 policies of the University of Pennsylvania protect academic freedom, which is essential to the research and teaching mission of universities and to students’ freedom in learning. The concept of academic freedom was first articulated during the early twentieth century by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and its canonical definition is found in the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles and 1970 Interpretive Comments. This statement has been endorsed by over 250 scholarly and educational organizations in the United States, and its principles are written into faculty handbooks nationwide, including Penn’s.

The principles of academic freedom were established to protect the integrity of research and teaching from interference by donors, trustees, politicians, and others who might seek to make universities serve private and political interests. They are founded on the idea that a university’s purpose is to generate new knowledge that can serve the common good in a democratic society, and that generating new knowledge requires free and open inquiry. To safeguard the university’s public mission, academic freedom entails the following rights for all faculty members—whether tenure-track or non-tenure track, and including graduate research and teaching assistants—and for students:

  • The right of faculty members to full freedom in research and teaching. This means that decisions about research and curricular matters are the province of faculty, who are hired on the basis of their professional qualifications in those areas. It also means that decisions about the hiring, promotion, and discipline of faculty members are to be made on the basis of their fitness to do the work of research and teaching, and determinations of fitness are made through formal, careful reviews by faculty members with the scholarly training to make informed evaluations. Academic decisions do not belong to trustees, donors, administrators, politicians, or others who lack academic expertise.

    Faculty members’ rights to freedom in research and teaching are not individual rights to say whatever one pleases in publications or in the classroom: a historian of Europe who espouses Holocaust denial or a biologist who teaches intelligent design is not protected by academic freedom because the academic profession in those fields has rejected those ideas as groundless and intellectually indefensible.  The rights to freedom in research and teaching are best understood as collective rights of the academic profession to determine the fitness of scholars to do the work of research and teaching within their areas of expertise, and they protect scholars who meet that standard from inappropriate pressure that would constrain free and open inquiry.

    Freedom in research and teaching is not a guild privilege: it is essential to students’ right to freedom in learning. It ensures that students take courses designed by qualified researchers and educators, not by donors, trustees, administrators, politicians, or others acting on the basis of non-academic preferences.

  • The right of faculty members to freedom in extramural speech—that is, speech on issues of general concern made as a member of the public. This right is necessary to protect freedom in research and teaching, as it prevents “pretextual” discipline—that is, cases in which trustees or administrators target a faculty member because they disagree with the substance of their scholarship, but rather than say so, they find a controversial statement that the professor has made in public and use that as the basis of discipline. This right protects speech made as a member of the public both within and beyond a faculty member’s area of expertise. According to the principles of academic freedom, extramural speech is not in itself grounds for discipline except in the rare case that it demonstrates unfitness to do the work of research and teaching. Such a determination must be made through a formal, careful review of evidence by faculty members.
  • The right of faculty members to freedom in intramural speech—that is, speech about the university itself that professors make as members of the institution. Faculty members have the right and responsibility to participate in the governance of their universities, and this right protects their ability to do so.  It establishes that faculty may not be disciplined for criticizing the university, as such threats of discipline would make it impossible for faculty to have a meaningful, independent institutional voice.
  • The right of students to freedom in learning. Codified in the AAUP’s 1967 Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students, this protects students’ freedom of expression and association, including the freedom to engage in political activity, all of which are essential aspects of learning and education. It also establishes that students are entitled to freedom of inquiry in the classroom. Finally, it stipulates that faculty do not evaluate students on the basis of their own or their students’ political views or activities. That ensures that faculty members and students can participate in public and political life without their speech threatening students’ freedom in learning.

These rights did not originate in the Constitution or in legislation, and they are not self-enforcing. Academic freedom is only as strong as the institutions, procedures, and professional norms that faculty members established over the last century to protect it:

  • Faculty governance institutions. Faculty across the United States incorporated AAUP principles into faculty handbooks, and they created Faculty Senates and faculty unions to enforce these policies.
  • Due process.  Written into Faculty Handbooks and union contracts, due process procedures protect all faculty members from unjust discipline or termination by requiring formal processes of review and appeal.
  • Tenure. The institution of tenure was created in order to protect academic freedom, on the understanding that job insecurity is the greatest threat to freedom in research and teaching.
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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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AAUP–Penn chapter President Amy Offner and Vice President Emily Steinlight contributed a guest column to the Daily Pennsylvanian, published on August 31 during the first week of classes, calling on faculty not to allow themselves to be used in Penn’s anti-union campaigns against student workers in GET-UP and United RAs at Penn. You can read our op-ed here.

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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Yesterday, March 15, 2022, the Penn administration announced significant policy changes that eliminate indoor masking and other Covid-19 safety measures on our campus. To express the concerns and objections of many of our colleagues, AAUP–Penn’s Covid Response Task Force and the AAUP–Penn Executive Committee immediately drafted the following joint statement, which we sent to the Interim Provost and Interim President as well as the Faculty Senate Tri-Chairs today, March 16th:

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Dear Interim President Wendell Pritchett, Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein, and Faculty Senate Tri-Chairs William W. Braham, Vivian L. Gadsden, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson,

Having heard from colleagues alarmed by the University’s March 15th announcement regarding policy changes that remove Covid-19 safety measures, the Penn chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP–Penn) writes to share our collective concerns, and to ask the administration to reconsider these policies and provide clarification.

These abruptly announced policy changes are troubling and unsubstantiated by public health science:

  • Screening testing is now required only for those who are unvaccinated, are not yet fully vaccinated, or have not uploaded their booster information.
  • Masking is now optional in most indoor public spaces on campus, with the temporary exception of classrooms
  • Masking will no longer be required in classrooms after March 28.
  • Visitors to campus are no longer required to be fully vaccinated. 

March 28th is less than a month from the end of the academic year. We are unclear as to why there is such a rush to unmask at this late date in the semester, and these new guidelines raise a number of concerns. In particular:

Our students travel widely during spring break, including to countries with rapidly rising Covid-19 rates such as the UK (despite very high vaccination rates) and other countries that have considerably lower vaccination rates. In addition, wastewater testing shows case rates in the U.S. rising at 38% of testing sites over the past two weeks; 15% of wastewater sites tracked by the CDC showed an increase in Covid-19 levels up to 1000%. This data suggests, despite a temporary lull, that the pandemic is not over. Why eliminate screening testing altogether, rather than modify testing policy and wait to gather data about infection rates on campus? Penn claims to rely on its own scientific expertise, yet the findings of its clinical group that supposedly meets regularly to assess OpenPass guidelines and other Covid-19 policies are never shared. Relying for guidance on the city of Philadelphia, which may be basing its decisions on political pressure as much as public health information, seems out of keeping with the knowledge-driven mission of a research university like Penn.

Booster effectiveness has been shown to drop dramatically after 4 months, causing Pfizer to seek approval for fourth boosters for those 65 and older, a population that includes a significant number of faculty members. Although Penn may have set a deadline of January 2022 for boosters, many faculty, graduate students, and staff received their booster shots when they were first available in October 2021. Such personnel are likely much more vulnerable to the new BA.2 variant. Additionally, students who are immunocompromised or not comfortable going maskless may feel self-conscious about wearing masks in class once they are no longer required. The welfare of our students is a top priority for faculty, and we are concerned for vulnerable members of our classes. We are equally concerned for the safety of staff and campus workers, particularly those who work in densely populated indoor spaces.

In light of the above, many of our colleagues ask for and urgently need further explanation and reconsideration: 

  • Will instructors have the option to require students to wear masks in the classroom, even if Penn’s guidelines make masks optional?
  • Will faculty, grads, and staff with caregiving responsibilities for those in high risk categories, such as the elderly and children under 5 who cannot be vaccinated, be able to shift their teaching or work online if they can no longer expect students and those around them in their workplaces to wear masks? 
  • What steps are being taken to ensure that all students feel safe in common spaces, including immunocompromised, disabled, and other high-risk students? 
  • What steps are being taken to protect the health of staff in high-traffic spaces? 

We realize that some members of the Penn community may be eager to go “back to normal,” and we sympathize deeply with that wish. But we cannot wish away the recurring risks or the impact of the pandemic on the lives of faculty, grads, students, and staff. Some of us have lost family members to Covid, and many of us currently care for elderly parents. Some of us live with partners or family members who are immunocompromised, or are older or otherwise medically vulnerable ourselves, and a very large number of faculty and staff have children under 5 who are still unable to be vaccinated. A non-trivial proportion of contingent faculty who teach Penn students and an even higher proportion of subcontracted campus workers may not even have employer-provided medical coverage if they get sick while working on our campus; what will Penn do to keep them safe? From the start of the pandemic our chapter has asked the University to prioritize the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our community. Removing even the most minimal forms of mitigation such as masking in our shared spaces now feels like organized abandonment. 

In the interest of our entire community, we urge Penn’s central administration to rethink and reverse these premature policy changes.

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Yesterday, the AAUP–Penn Executive Committee issued this statement in a joint proposal with the LGBT Faculty Diversity Working Group to the Faculty Senate to extend parental leave policies to those bringing foster children into their homes:

On behalf of the American Association of University Professors chapter at Penn, we write to express our support for the proposed revisions to the faculty handbook regarding foster care. We agree with our colleagues in the LGBT Faculty Diversity Working Group that the current faculty handbook contains an oversight regarding foster care, which should be treated equally to other forms of bringing a child into the home in terms of parental leave. Correcting this oversight will have a positive impact for faculty of any identity who wish to bring a foster child into their home. But addressing this omission is even more important given that foster care affects some faculty more than others. In particular, the omission has a marked impact on LGBTQ+ faculty, who are up to 15 times more likely to be fostering a child than cis heteronormative faculty.

We urge the Faculty Senate to take action addressing this inequality and provide support for faculty who choose to become foster parents. At the same time, we would push the Faculty Senate and Penn Administration to address the egregious disparities in parental leave policies–for adoption, birth, and fostering–between standing and contingent faculty, as well as graduate students.  We believe that the benefits Penn offers to tenured and tenure-track faculty should be available to everyone who teaches and works at Penn.

In solidarity,
AAUP–Penn Executive Committee

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