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.