On May 10, the AAUP-Penn Executive Committee issued the following statement on the Penn Administration’s Decision to Arrest Students and Faculty and the University’s Imposition of Mandatory Leaves of Absence on Six Students.

May 10, 2024

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the decision of the Penn administration to call in riot police early this morning to arrest students and faculty engaged in nonviolent antiwar protest on our campus. This repressive action was a violation of the University’s Guidelines on Open Expression and a cowardly, shameful attempt to silence and punish speech that administrators simply do not want to hear.  We further condemn the administration’s abuse of the student disciplinary system in summoning numerous students to disciplinary meetings on specious grounds.  And we condemn the decision of Penn’s Provost, John Jackson, to impose mandatory leaves of absence on six students involved in the encampment on May 9. Provost Jackson abused the student disciplinary system, using it not to punish violations of university rules—there are none here that we know of—but simply to silence criticism of Israeli government policies and of the war on Gaza. Bowing to pressure from donors, politicians, and lobbying organizations that would like to control what can be taught and studied in the United States, and which have consistently misrepresented the character of a peaceful antiwar encampment, Penn’s administration has violated a core principle of academic freedom: the right of students to freedom in learning, which includes their right to assemble and engage in political activity.  

We demand that all charges be dropped, that the university reverse the mandatory leaves and other sanctions imposed on students, that the university dismiss all disciplinary cases against students targeted for their participation in the encampment, and that the university cease its pattern of threatening students with discipline and arrest for nonviolent antiwar protest.

Those of us who have spent time on College Green in recent weeks know that the encampment was an example of nonviolent protest. It complied with Penn’s Guidelines on Open Expression, and it embodied a form of protest that is utterly familiar and ordinary on college campuses: students slept in tents, hung banners, hosted talks and teach-ins, created art, read, studied, and chanted. Heeding the advice of groundskeepers, student protesters even periodically repositioned their tents so as not to harm the grass. Classes, exams, meetings, research, and education on our campus have proceeded. In fact, with support from faculty and staff, the encampment hosted educational events that were in desperately short supply this year, as donor pressure and administrative repression undermined the ability of faculty, staff, and students to organize events on the history, culture, and politics of Israel and Palestine.  While the university administration repeatedly mischaracterized the encampment as a threat to safety, the only threats of violence that occurred here were threats against the students in the encampment, including one from a man armed with a hunting knife and the other from a man who sprayed tents and food with a chemical agent.

It was not the encampment but the university administration that created a crisis.  Mimicking the response of university administrations across the country, administrators spent weeks whipping up fear by misrepresenting peaceful protest as a threat to safety, threatening the students with discipline, and accusing them of violating unnamed rules without any evidence, all in an apparent attempt to legitimate a crackdown or intimidate protesters into leaving.  When protesters stayed, as was their right, the administration turned to flagrant violations of due process, summarily imposing mandatory leaves of absence on six students on May 9—silencing them by removing them from campus. These acts of escalation were in no one’s interest. They have imperiled the futures of students who were exercising their rights to assemble and to engage in political activity—rights protected by the principle of academic freedom and by the university’s own policies. They were forms of incitement and acts of intimidation. They were intolerable responses to a nonviolent student demonstration. This is not the kind of university our students deserve.

The administration’s acts of escalation were also violations of the university’s own policies.  Penn’s Guidelines on Open Expression are framed to protect the right to protest specifically in situations like this one, where there is disagreement. For that very reason, in case of conflict between university policies, the Guidelines on Open Expression explicitly take precedence over all other policies. The Guidelines prohibit the University from restricting assembly or demonstration on the basis of the substance or nature of the views expressed. Yet that is exactly what the administration has done for months. Since last fall, the university administration has established a pattern of silencing, threatening, and punishing speech critical of the war in Gaza and of Israeli government policies. In futile attempts to appease donors, lobbying organizations, and politicians who neither understand nor respect the principles of academic freedom and open expression, the administration has restricted a Jewish student group’s ability to screen a film critical of the state of Israel; it has banned the student group Penn against the Occupation; it has failed to show adequate concern for the harassment of Palestinian, Muslim, Iranian, and Arab students and faculty; it has issued public statements that have contributed to that harassment; and it has repeatedly abused the student disciplinary system to punish nonviolent antiwar activity. This pattern of discrimination, in every instance targeting speech critical of the war in Gaza, is itself a violation of Penn’s Guidelines on Open Expression. And it raises serious questions about Penn’s adherence to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. 

Compounding this violation of the Guidelines on Open Expression, the Provost appears to have abused his power and violated due process protections in imposing mandatory leaves on students. Under part III.D of the Charter of the Student Disciplinary System, the Provost may only impose such leaves when a student’s presence on campus threatens “order, health, safety, or the conduct of the University’s educational mission.” These students’ presence represented no such threat. It is indicative of the Orwellian nature of university governance, however, that the university administration holds the exclusive power to make this determination, which allowed the Provost to characterize the protest as threatening by fiat. Meanwhile, the Provost appears to have violated another part of the charter: Part III.D. requires the Provost to consult the students’ Dean or Associate Dean before imposing a mandatory leave. As far as we know, the Provost flouted that requirement.  

In the immediate term, we reiterate that all charges must be dropped, and the administration must reverse the mandatory leaves and other sanctions imposed on students.  It must end its abuse of the student disciplinary system to silence and punish anti-war protest, first by withdrawing all cases against students that are currently being processed by the Center for Community Standards and Accountability (CSA).

In the longer term, our university needs an entirely new system for enforcing its Guidelines on Open Expression—the university policy that defines and defends the right to participate in demonstrations. Currently, the Vice Provost for University Life, an arm of the central administration, has the exclusive power to interpret and enforce the Guidelines, and as a result, the university administration has repeatedly violated the Guidelines in its treatment of student protest, with no consequences whatsoever. The power to interpret and enforce the Guidelines on Open Expression must be taken away from the central administration and transferred to a new elected body consisting of faculty (tenure-track and non-tenure-track), staff, and students, all elected at large.

This should be the beginning of a thorough redesign of university governance to provide faculty of all ranks, staff, grad workers, and students with real democratic power to write and enforce university policies. Only then will we be able to defend our rights to academic freedom and open expression, including the right of students to assemble and engage in nonviolent protest.

Across the country, university administrations have called in armed police to clear encampments by force, but they have failed to silence peaceful protest against the war in Gaza. We stand with our students and colleagues who have displayed moral courage and discipline in the face of threats and police aggression. Peaceful protest is a necessary part of education and of democracy itself. We stand with all those working to defend the university as a democratic institution and as a space of free and critical research, teaching, learning, and expression.

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On April 30, the AAUP-Penn Executive Committee issued the following statement, which we have sent to Penn’s interim President Jameson, Provost Jackson, Vice Provost for University Life Karu Kozuma and Senior Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tamara King, the Faculty Senate Tri-Chairs, and the Chair of the Committee on Open Expression, as well as members of AAUP-Penn.



April 30, 2024

SUBJECT: Abuse of the Guidelines on Open Expression

This year, we have seen university administrations across the country revise and violate their own policies in order to repress nonviolent protest against the war in Gaza. We write because we believe that our university administration is currently attempting to do just that.

What are the Guidelines on Open Expression?

Penn’s Guidelines on Open Expression are foundational to all other university policies: they take precedence over all other policies in case of conflict (I.D), and they apply to everyone, including trustees and members of advisory boards (II.A.3).  Importantly, they define demonstrations (II.B), and while they are far from perfect, they provide significant protections to members of the university who participate in demonstrations.

No Legitimate Enforcement Mechanism: VPUL and the Committee on Open Expression

The Vice Provost for University Life (VPUL)—part of the central administration—has the exclusive power to decide when the guidelines have been violated (see the Interpretative Guidelines (Section III) Adopted by the 2022-2023 Committee on Open Expression) and to enforce the Guidelines (Section V).  The Committee on Open Expression, a committee of the University Council with appointed faculty, staff, and student representation, is merely an advisory body to VPUL. It can offer its own interpretation of the Guidelines, advise in real time on whether it considers actions on campus to have violated the Guidelines, and offer interpretations after the fact for future consideration, but VPUL is not bound to respect its advice.

In recent cases of peaceful protest at Penn, VPUL’s unilateral power to interpret and enforce the Guidelines has allowed the central administration itself to violate the Guidelines with impunity.  For instance, during the spring 2022 Fossil Free Penn encampment, VPUL reported students for a disciplinary meeting.  Students and their faculty advisors were able to demonstrate at that meeting that the encampment had not violated the Guidelines, but that the University administration, including VPUL itself, appeared to have committed numerous violations of the Guidelines in its treatment of the students.  That meeting resulted in no charges against the students—an affirmation of the students’ and advisors’ arguments—but there was also no accountability for the administration.

The unilateral power of VPUL to interpret and enforce the Guidelines is indicative of the general problem of university governance that we have seen this year.  By design, faculty, staff, and students do not have real power to make and enforce university policies to protect our rights to academic freedom—students’ freedom in learning and faculty members’ freedom in research, teaching, and intramural and extramural speech.  Our structural disenfranchisement is the fundamental reason that a small number of donors, lobbying organizations, alumni, and politicians have proven so capable of pressuring administrators this year and instrumentalizing them in a campaign to undermine academic freedom and destabilize the university.

This Week’s Abuses of the Guidelines on Open Expression

Sunday, April 28

According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, on Sunday evening, the Committee on Open Expression distributed threatening and misleading documents to students on behalf of the university administration: members of the committee gave students in the encampment copies of a document stating “Penn community members must provide identification when asked by University officials,” and that “[p]rompt compliance” would be a “mitigating factor in any disciplinary proceedings.”  As we understand it, these notices were not written by the Committee but by the university administration.  According to the DP, these notices and follow-up conversations were the reason that students believed that they were being threatened with arrest and sent out distressed requests for support, drawing scores of faculty, staff, and students from across the university to defend their peaceful protest from anticipated police repression.

It was wholly inappropriate for the Committee on Open Expression to distribute threats on behalf of the administration.

Moreover, we reject the substance of the document distributed on Sunday as a misrepresentation of the Guidelines on Open Expression, which do not authorize administrators to demand that students at the encampment show IDs.

Part V.B.4 of the Guidelines establish that in the case of demonstrations that do not violate the Guidelines—and this demonstration does not—participants have a right to privacy and their presence shall not be reported. There is no provision here for requesting IDs:  “Any observer or Committee representative who attends a meeting, event or demonstration shall respect the privacy of those involved. If there has been no violation of these Guidelines, other University regulations, or applicable laws, an observer, committee representative, or public safety employee who attends a meeting, event or demonstration shall not report on the presence of any person at such meeting, event or demonstration.”

And Part I.D of the Guidelines states that in cases of conflict, the Guidelines on Open Expression take precedence over all other university policies.  There is no other ID policy that could apply here over and above this one.

Sunday’s unjustified threats recall the university’s grievous violations of the Guidelines on Open Expression during the spring of 2022, when administrators violated the rights of students in the Fossil Free Penn encampment. One of those violations was surveilling the identities of students in a demonstration that did not violate the Guidelines by demanding their IDs and videotaping them.

In 2022, the Committee on Open Expression appeared not to have been consulted.  Shockingly on Sunday, the Committee, under the direct, on-site supervision of chair Lisa Bellini, actively participated in the same violations of students’ rights.

As a result, on Sunday night and Monday, students participating in nonviolent protest in compliance with the Guidelines on Open Expression were preparing to be arrested because they believed that the university was going to ask to see their IDs—something the Guidelines do not provide for—and because the administration, through COE, told them that if they did not comply—as we believe is their right under the Guidelines—they would be judged to have violated a non-existent rule and subject to discipline.

The Committee on Open Expression thus contributed to a dangerous and counterproductive escalation.

Monday, April 29

On Monday, faculty communicated the objections above to the Committee on Open Expression and the central administration.  They asked the Committee to retract the threats it issued on Sunday night and refrain from delivering any future threats on behalf of the administration.

Rather than heed these calls, the Committee on Open Expression on Monday issued new “anticipatory guidance” authorizing the administration to do a number of things that the Guidelines on Open Expression do not themselves authorize, including requesting IDs at a demonstration that does not violate the Guidelines, and punishing undefined acts of harassment and intimidation.

The Committee sanctions these administrative actions on specious grounds.  It authorizes ID checks as safety measures, despite the fact that the encampment is a nonviolent protest threatening no one’s safety.  It claims that VPUL can be expected to check IDs without violating the right to privacy guaranteed in part V.B.4 of the Guidelines: supposedly, the Committee claims, VPUL would not record the identities of students who show their IDs and would not use knowledge of their identities for disciplinary purposes. Given that the university administration has relentlessly targeted students all year for nonviolent assembly and speech against the war in Gaza, and has repeatedly abused the disciplinary process to silence them for the substantive content of their speech—a violation of the Guidelines (I.B)—we have no reason to believe that VPUL would exercise restraint as the Committee claims.

As for the Committee’s advisory opinion that in the context of demonstrations, “the University commits to protecting all members of the Penn community from harassment, [and] intimidation,” words must be read in context.  Since the fall, the university administration has repeatedly issued public condemnations of students and faculty members who have spoken against the war in Gaza, dangerously conflating their criticism of Israeli government policy with antisemitism.  And in their April 26 statement demanding that the encampment disband, Interim President Larry Jameson, Provost John Jackson, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli claimed to be responding to “reports of harassing and intimidating conduct.” The administration’s pattern of describing anti-war speech as hateful, harassing, and intimidating capitulates to the claims of small groups of counter-protesters who have themselves been accused of harassing members of the encampment but who have never been the subject of public condemnation by administrators.  Indeed, throughout this academic year, the university administration has failed to respond adequately to the targeted harassment of individual faculty, staff, and students who have been doxxed and threatened with personal violence for speaking against the war in Gaza.  In this context, we read the Committee’s comments about harassment and intimidation as echoing the administration’s biased characterization of anti-war speech, and as a concession to counterprotesters who simply disagree with the political views expressed by participants in the encampment and would like to silence them.

It is important to understand that this “anticipatory guidance” is not an amendment to the Guidelines on Open Expression (IV.B.2) or a rule (IV.B.1): it is non-binding advice to VPUL. It is an example of the Committee on Open Expression, a toothless advisory body, providing window dressing for the central administration’s attempts to skirt and violate the Guidelines on Open Expression.

Tuesday, April 30

While COE’s “anticipatory guidance” is, as far as we understand, merely hortatory, the university administration today lost no time in acting as if the Guidelines had been amended.  According to students, VPUL representatives entered the encampment, demanded to see IDs, and took photos of those who asked questions and did not comply.  Under the Guidelines (V.C), VPUL is only authorized to take these steps in cases of demonstrations that violate the Guidelines, which the encampment does not. Further, even if the demonstration were in violation and VPUL were authorized to take such steps, the Guidelines require VPUL to warn the individual that a picture will be taken if ID is not presented; if such a warning were not given (and we are told it was not), the photograph cannot be used as evidence in disciplinary proceedings (See Section V.C.1.b).

VPUL then reported students to the Center for Community Standards and Accountability (CSA) for reportedly violating the Guidelines on Open Expression by refusing to show IDs.  We repeat: their refusal was not a violation of the Guidelines in this circumstance, and any photos taken without warning are inadmissible as evidence in CSA proceedings.

According to the DP, Associate Vice Provost for University Life Tamara Greenfield King has gone on to demand that students take down signs in the encampment, claiming that the signs violate unnamed university policies.  And according to students, administrators have threatened to clear the encampment on Wednesday.

We are witnessing an Orwellian situation.  VPUL—a body of the central administration with unilateral power to interpret and enforce Guidelines that are supposed to protect the right to protest—is attempting to shut down a nonviolent protest that is in compliance with the Guidelines.  It is doing so by fabricating nonexistent rules and claiming that they are part of the Guidelines on Open Expression—and who can tell them otherwise? It is then finding cover for its fabrications in statements and actions of the Committee on Open Expression, which, while formally powerless, appears to have abdicated any responsibility to act as an independent advisory body.  On the basis of fabricated infractions of non-existent rules, VPUL is then reporting students for disciplinary meetings—an abuse of the disciplinary system designed not to respond to real infractions but to silence speech that the university administration does not want to hear.

It is essential to note that VPUL’s actions themselves appear to be violations of the Guidelines on Open Expression, which prohibit the University from restricting assembly or demonstration on the basis of the substance or nature of the views expressed (I.B).   As our past statements have made clear, this year, the university administration has established a pattern of silencing, threatening, and punishing speech critical of the war in Gaza and of the state of Israel.  That is what is happening here.

Fabricating Rules and Fabricating a Crisis

Those of us who have spent time on College Green this week know that the encampment is an example of nonviolent protest.  Whatever our views of the war in Gaza and the antiwar movement in the United States, the encampment complies with the Guidelines on Open Expression so far as we have seen, and it embodies a form of protest that is utterly familiar and ordinary on college campuses: students are sleeping in tents, hanging banners, hosting talks and teach-ins, creating art, reading, studying, and chanting.  Classes, meetings, research, and education on our campus are proceeding; and in fact, the encampment is hosting educational events that have been in desperately short supply this year, as donor pressure and administrative repression have undermined the ability of faculty, staff, and students to organize events on the history, culture, and politics of Israel and Palestine.

It is the university administration, with the lamentable assistance of the Committee on Open Expression, that is creating a crisis.  Its fabrications, misrepresentations, and threats—all aggressive attempts to manufacture rule violations where none seem to exist, apparently in order to legitimate a crackdown or intimidate protesters into leaving—are acts of escalation that are creating fear on our campus.  They may be preludes to police action; they may be forms of incitement; they are certainly acts of intimidation.  They are intolerable responses to a nonviolent student demonstration.

A Positive Program

In the immediate term, the administration must end its attempts to shut down the encampment on specious grounds.

In the longer term, the AAUP-Penn Executive Committee has proposed and continues to maintain that our university needs an entirely new system for enforcing the Guidelines on Open Expression—one that is legitimate and effective.  It is a proven recipe for abuse for VPUL to have exclusive power to interpret and enforce the Guidelines, with the Committee on Open Expression as a toothless advisor in the best case and an instrument of legitimation in the worst.  The power to interpret and enforce the Guidelines on Open Expression must be taken away from VPUL and transferred to a new elected body consisting of faculty (tenure-track and non-tenure-track), staff, and students, all elected at large.  The Committee on Open Expression should be disbanded, as VPUL would no longer require its service, and faculty, staff, and students would have direct decision-making power.

This should be the beginning of a thorough redesign of university governance to provide faculty of all ranks, staff, grad workers, and students with real democratic power to write and enforce university policies.

—AAUP-Penn Executive Committee

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This morning, on April 27th, the AAUP-Penn Executive Committee sent the following urgent message to Interim President Jameson, Provost Jackson, and Senior Executive Vice President Carnaroli in response to last night’s message threatening to shut down the student antiwar protest on College Green:

April 27, 2024

Dear President Jameson, Provost Jackson, and Senior Executive Vice President Carnaroli,

We are deeply disturbed by the email you sent last night, which demands that peaceful protesters leave College Green on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, including claims that their encampment threatens the safety of others. These allegations have been disputed to us by faculty and students who have attended and observed the demonstration. Your statement mischaracterizes the overall nature of an antiwar protest that necessarily involves strong emotions on both sides but has not, to our knowledge, involved any actual violence or threats of violence to individuals on our campus. To the contrary, those involved in the demonstration have worked to maintain a nonviolent space of discussion, debate, and even disagreement, in the spirit of an educational environment. Moreover, we have received reports of potential harassment and intimidating conduct directed at the peaceful protesters themselves, creating the concerning impression that complaints of harassment are being evaluated and policies applied in a discriminatory manner—a potential violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Penn’s administration has already been accused of establishing a pattern of discriminatory behavior in its public statements as well as its actions this year. For instance, in futile attempts to appease donors, lobbying organizations, and politicians who would like to control what can be taught, studied, and publicly discussed in the United States, you have restricted a Jewish student group’s ability to screen a film critical of the state of Israel; you have banned the student group Penn against the Occupation; you have failed to show adequate concern for the harassment of Palestinian, Muslim, Iranian, and Arab students and faculty; and you have issued public statements that have contributed to that harassment. This pattern must not continue. We urge you not to use disputed claims and partial depictions as justifications for a crackdown on peaceful protesters. 

We are further concerned by your claim that the encampment violates unnamed facilities policies. On the one hand, as a demonstration under the Guidelines on Open Expression, the encampment is not an event requiring a facilities permit at all. On the other hand, you may be implying that the encampment violates some other facilities policy—which one, we cannot know and cannot evaluate while your implicit threat to clear the encampment within 24 hours looms. What we do know is that during this academic year, Penn’s central administration, like university administrations nationwide, has turned to silencing speech critical of the war in Gaza through discriminatory enforcement of mundane and petty rules; in one highly publicized case on our campus, the Vice Provost for University Life reported a student to CSA for allegedly posting stickers about the Palestine Freedom School, claiming that this was a violation of the Code of Student Conduct. As all of us know, students routinely post stickers on our campus about all manner of subjects without being hauled into disciplinary proceedings, and in prior cases when students have been penalized for stickering, they have been fined $1, not accused of serious violations of the Student Code of Conduct. This pattern of discriminatory rule enforcement, in every instance targeting speech critical of the war in Gaza, is itself a violation of Penn’s Guidelines on Open Expression, which prohibit the University from restricting assembly and demonstration on the basis of the substantive content of the views expressed. And it raises further questions about Penn’s adherence to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

You say you “have closely monitored the protest.” We write to inform you that we are closely monitoring your actions. Penn has the opportunity to set a different example from the university administrations at Columbia, NYU, Emory, the University of Texas Austin, Indiana University, Ohio State, and other institutions that have committed grievous violations of open expression and academic freedom, and unleashed shocking police violence against students and faculty. On Thursday when the demonstration began, we were pleased to see Penn avoid unnecessary escalation and respect the rights of members of our community to participate in peaceful protest. We urge you to maintain that commitment to open expression. Do not escalate the situation. Do not violate the rights of students and faculty. Remember that the actions you choose to take today will be your legacy. 

Peaceful protest has a long and proud history at our university. We expect to see it respected in the present. 

Sincerely,

AAUP-Penn Executive Committee

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On April 23, in response to university administrators’ deployment of repressive force against students and faculty engaged in peaceful protests at Columbia, NYU, and several other campuses, as well as the infringement of the associational rights of student groups at many universities including our own, the Executive Committee of AAUP–Penn released the following public statement to Penn’s central administration and to media contacts as well as to our chapter’s membership:

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Statement by AAUP-Penn Executive Committee on the Repression of Student and Faculty Dissent
April 23, 2024

We condemn in the strongest terms the wave of recent repression of students and faculty engaged in peaceful and principled protest by university administrations across the country. These include the draconian treatment of students by the administrations of Barnard and Columbia, aided by the NYPD whom administrators called to campus for the first time since 1968, expressly without the consent of the Columbia University Senate and thus in direct violation of shared governance. They also include copycat crackdowns on peaceful protesters at Yale University and at NYU, both of which authorized police to assault and arrest their own faculty and students—reportedly including the pepper spraying of legal observers and student journalists. These crackdowns extend and intensify the capricious and one-sided suppression of dissent at Penn this year, most recently seen in the unjustified ban of the student group Penn Against the Occupation. The sheer volume of administrative actions in violation of university statutes, shared governance, and faculty and student rights is too large to catalog in this statement, which itself reveals the perilous environment university administrations have created on our campuses. Notably, these administrations have repeatedly and consistently shown themselves to be biased in their selective suppression of students and faculty critical of Israel’s war on Palestinians, often apparently at the behest of right-wing donors, politicians, alumni, and lobbying groups. They purport to be concerned about the safety of Jewish students while actively suppressing the rights of Jewish students and faculty who express their own criticism of the current war on Gaza, and conflating antisemitism with all criticism of the State of Israel, which makes no one safer. Meanwhile, they show utter disdain for the safety and rights of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Persian, and other students and faculty offering the same criticism. As a result, with few notable exceptions, university administrators’ accounts of their actions can no longer be trusted, and their statements affirming an ostensible commitment to student safety—made while threatening or deliberately unleashing police violence on their own peaceably assembled students and faculty—have lost all credibility.

We echo our colleagues in AAUP-Columbia, AAUP-Barnard, and NYU-AAUP in demanding that all suspensions of their students be dismissed, all charges against their students be dropped and their records cleared, and the rights of faculty and students to peacefully protest be restored immediately and respected going forward. We are watching, in particular, to make sure that non-tenure-track and untenured faculty, students and faculty of color, and LGBTQ+ faculty and students—who are a significant number of those arrested and charged—do not face retaliatory actions from these universities. We demand the same of Penn’s administration, and call specifically for Penn Against the Occupation to be reinstated, and we call for the administration to cease its abuse of the student disciplinary system to silence and punish legitimate forms of speech, protest, and assembly. Our university administration must end its campaign of one-sided suppression of political dissent, which discredits the entire institution’s commitment to academic freedom, open expression, free inquiry, and freedom of association. We further demand that disciplinary procedures against students at Penn and at campuses across the country be reviewed and revised by faculty and students, not administrators, to protect the freedoms and due process rights of all. Finally, we demand that all universities cease the abhorrent practice of turning armed police on peaceful demonstrators. 

While in the immediate term university administrators might seem to have demonstrated their own power, the draconian nature of their actions reveals the weakness of their position. We are confident that students, faculty, and staff who ally together in peaceful dissent against injustice will carry the day. The Executive Committee of AAUP-Penn stands with our colleagues, students, and allies in our national AAUP and at Columbia, Barnard, Yale, NYU, the University of Michigan, Pomona College, Stony Brook University, the City University of New York, Vanderbilt University, the University of Minnesota, Cal Poly Humboldt, and beyond, and we commit ourselves to a more just future for all.

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On April 13, 2024, the AAUP-Penn Task Force on Health, Safety, and Disability with the support of the Executive Committee wrote Associate Dean Jeffery Kallberg, as well as Dean Steven Fluharty, Provost John L. Jackson, Interim President Larry Jameson, and the Board of Trustees, to urge the university administration to pay Deaf Lecturers in the American Sign Language (ASL) Program at a level commensurate with their qualifications and experience. We await their response.

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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.

An important update on GET-UP’s union election and our demonstration on April 17—a part of the National Day of Action for Higher Ed involving more than 90 campuses across the U.S.:

As you know, a supermajority of graduate workers filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in October 2023, and they have waited half a year to vote because of Penn’s obstructionist tactics. In late March, the NLRB finally ruled that the election could go ahead and set a date: April 16-17. In an unprecedented show of support, over 240 faculty members signed a public statement of support for graduate unionization, and four campus labor organizations—GET-UPAAUP-PennPenn Museum Workers United, and United RAs at Penn—announced a joint rally on April 17.

In a twist of events, the election date was changed with less than a week’s notice. On April 10, the NLRB ruled that a group of graduate student workers whom Penn had tried to exclude could vote in their election—a victory for the grad union. It then postponed the election by two weeks to provide the administration time to produce a list of eligible workers. In response, on April 10, Penn asked the NLRB to delay the election until the fall—a shameless attempt to deny workers their legal right to vote. The NLRB rightly rejected Penn’s proposal and is trying to reschedule the election for May 1–2 (dates to be confirmed).

Penn’s eleventh-hour demand to postpone the election indicates that the administration’s anti-union campaign is not over: the University intends to fight its own research and teaching assistants straight through the election, and likely beyond.

In the face of Penn’s anti-union campaign, our April 17 demonstration for grad workers’ right to vote for their union is more important than ever. As we approach the end of an academic year during which we have also faced serious attacks on freedom of assembly, academic freedom, and shared governance, GET-UP members’ vote for a collective voice at Penn also represents a vital step toward democratizing our institution. The demonstration will go ahead as planned on April 17 at 1pm at the Button. The message of the day remains: Unions belong at Penn. Democracy belongs at Penn. We stand with grad workers as they prepare to win their union.

So please come on April 17 at 1pm to the Button to show your support, and to stand up and be counted on this National Day of Action. Your participation is important as a show of unity across job categories in support of the rights of grad workers—and as an expression of broad-based support for the principle of democracy at our institution and in our society.

Members of many higher ed unions, AAUP chapters including AAUP-Penn, Higher Ed Labor United, and student organizations are coming together across the country to plan a national day of action for higher education on April 17, 2024. The aim is not just to beat back the current attacks on academic freedom, DEI bans, and devastating budget cuts to public institutions in many states. We will mobilize around a unifying national message that links our local struggles with a set of positive demands we can fight for together, including publicly funded higher ed for all, freedom to learn, job security and fair pay, and democratic governance of our institutions. This statement outlines the future we stand for

The centerpiece of the day will be simultaneous actions on every campus that can organize one: a teach-in, demonstration, tabling event, or whatever would be useful and feasible for you, oriented to the key issues that you are already organizing around. There will also be a national event focused on the function of higher education for democracy. If you are interested in getting involved:

April 17 Day of Action Events: How to Participate and Next Steps
1) Make a plan with your union for a campus/local action on April 17
2) Have your union endorse the statement The Future We Stand For (members: AAUP-Penn has already endorsed)
3) Important: Register your union’s participation and endorsement by filling out this form!

National Teach-In
In addition to the campus actions that will be the main focus of the day, there will be a live-streamed National Teach-in on the function of higher education for democracy at 5pm EST on April 17 (click here to register). Many campuses are organizing watch parties with live discussion, either in addition to a local action or as their event.

Upcoming Planning Meeting on 3/29
If you’re looking to get involved or if you have questions, join the next open meeting on Friday, March 29 at 1pm EST via Zoom (click here to join). Learn about the National Day of Action, discuss what you’re experiencing on your campus, and think about the kind of action you could organize on April 17.

Save the date: follow-up meetings
We hope this first National Day of Action will be a springboard for ongoing mobilization together! So after April 17, join us for two follow-up meetings to plan next steps:

Fri, April 26, 2-3pm EST (click here to join)
Mon, May 6, 1-2pm EST (
click here to join)

For further information, visit dayofactionforhighered.org.

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As the historic unionization wave continues on our campus, especially as Penn graduate student workers in GET-UP gear up to vote for their union this spring after a highly successful organizing campaign, now is a crucial time for faculty as well as Penn employees across job categories to educate ourselves and each other on the right to organize.

AAUP–Penn is honored to host a lecture and conversation on February 27th with an expert on the subject, Janice R. Bellace, Samuel Blank Professor Emerita of Legal Studies in the Wharton School and past Chair of the International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts, who will discuss freedom of association and unionization as human rights. Join us on 2/27 at 4pm EST on zoom to hear Janice R. Bellace speak on “Graduate Student Workers’ Human Right to Organize.”

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