Pennsylvania State University – University Park

Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 3rd Circuit

Speech Code Rating

Pennsylvania State University – University Park has been given the speech code rating Red. A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Read more here.

  • Pennsylvania House of Representatives Select Committee on Student Academic Freedom

    September 19, 2005

    The Pennsylvania House of Representatives brought together a committee to examine allegations that Pennsylvania’s public universities were plagued by liberal ideology and indoctrination. David A. French, at the time president of FIRE, served as a legal adviser to the panel. FIRE released FIRE Report on the First Amendment Responsibilities of Pennsylvania State-Funded Colleges and Universities, explaining that Pennsylvania universities are bound to follow the strictures of the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions, notably to respect the expressive rights of students and faculty members, to protect religious liberty on campus, and to protect freedom of conscience on campus.

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  • Pennsylvania State University: Disciplining of Professor for Pro-War Remarks

    October 24, 2001

    At Pennsylvania State University, one professor’s web page advocated vigorous military action as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. Penn State’s Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Robert Secor, informed the professor that the comments were “insensitive and perhaps even intimidating.” In a letter to President Graham Spanier, FIRE noted that such a message, coming from the chief academic officer, chills free speech and academic freedom “especially when, as at Penn State, “intimidating” expression is grounds for dismissal. President Spanier responded with an unequivocal endorsement of free speech and academic freedom at his institution, but he denied that […]

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  • Pennsylvania State University: Charges of ‘Discrimination’ Due to Religious Language in Club Constitution

    March 12, 2001

    A student group at Penn State University (PSU) won a momentous victory when the University reversed a ruling of the student government that had stripped the group’s constitution and mission statement of words found to be “discriminatory.” The trouble started when the undergraduate Student Government Supreme Court informed PSU’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) that the words of its constitution and mission statement, identifying rights as “God- given,” constituted religious “discrimination,” because the words reflected a “devotion to god.” Later that year, the same Supreme Court upheld its decision and “struck” the offending statements from the YAF constitution. […]

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Red Light Policies

  • University Policy Manual: Policy AD85 Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Related Inappropriate Conduct

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: May 9, 2016

    Harassment means behavior consisting of physical or verbal conduct that substantially interferes with an individual’s employment, education or access to University programs, activities or opportunities.   Harassment may include, but is not limited to, verbal or physical attacks, graphic or written statements, threats, or slurs. Whether the alleged conduct constitutes prohibited Harassment depends on the totality of the particular circumstances, including the nature, frequency and duration of the conduct in question, the location and context in which it occurs and the status of the individuals involved.

    Any type of Harassment is prohibited at the University. To constitute prohibited Harassment which can lead to discipline under this Policy, however, the conduct must be such that it detrimentally affects the individual in question and would detrimentally affect a reasonable person under the same circumstances.

    Sexual Harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is unwanted, inappropriate, or unconsented to.  Any type of Sexual Harassment is prohibited at the University.

    Sexual harassment when committed by a student can lead to discipline under the Code of Conduct.  The precise definitions of the Code of Conduct should be reviewed and applied when a student is accused of or commits harassment.

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Yellow Light Policies
Green Light Policies
  • Office of Student Conduct: Code of Conduct & Student Conduct Procedures

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: May 9, 2016

    SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND MISCONDUCT:  Engaging in unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to substantially interfere with the individual’s employment, education, or access to University programs, activities and opportunities, and such conduct would detrimentally affect a reasonable person under the same circumstances.

    HARASSMENT:  Engaging in behavior that is sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to threaten an individual or substantially interfere with the individual’s employment, education or access to University programs, activities or opportunities, and such behavior would detrimentally affect a reasonable person under the same circumstances. (also see Policies AD-85)

    Behaviors that meet the above definition may include, but are not limited to, the following:

    • directing physical or verbal conduct at an individual because of the individual’s age, race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, service in the uniformed services, veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, gender identity, genetic information or political ideas;
    • subjecting a person or group of persons to unwanted physical contact or threat of such;
    • engaging in a course of conduct, including following the person without proper authority (e.g., stalking), under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or to suffer emotional distress.

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  • Use of Outdoor Areas for Expressive Activities

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: May 9, 2016

    A university is inherently a marketplace of ideas, and Penn State encourages and protects the rights of members of the University community to express divergent viewpoints and opinions on matters of concern.

    Based upon careful study, the following areas of the University Park Campus have been designated as areas suitable for expressive activity:

    • Old Main front patio
    • Allen Street Gate Plaza
    • Willard Building patio area between Willard and Obelisk
    • Palmer Art Museum Plaza
    • Northwest corner of Shortlidge Rd. and College Avenue
    • Fisher Plaza
    • IST Plaza
    • Pattee Library Mall entrance plaza
    • HUB-Robeson – Rear sidewalk pad (not the Patio)
    • HUB-Robeson – Lawn
    • Osmond Fountain Area (after 5pm)
    • Area under the Willaman Gateway to the Life Sciences

    With a proper reservation, a group will have exclusive use of the reserved location and may not transfer the reservation to or allow use of the location by any other group. If a location has not been reserved, it will be available for use by a group, consistent with the other requirements of this policy.

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  • University Policy Manual: Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: May 9, 2016

    The expression of diverse views and opinions is encouraged in the University community. Further, the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution assures the right of free expression. In a community which recognizes the rights of its members to hold divergent views and to express those views, sometimes ideas are expressed which are contrary to University values and objectives. Nevertheless, the University cannot impose disciplinary sanctions upon such expression when it is otherwise in compliance with University regulations.

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  • Court Wins for Accused

    November 5, 2015

    By Jake New at Inside Higher Ed Last week, Brandon Austin, a former college basketball player, filed a lawsuit against the University of Oregon for $7.5 million, arguing that administrators there violated his rights when they suspended him over his alleged involvement in a gang rape. Austin was able to transfer to a community college and play basketball there last season, but has since left to (so far, unsuccessfully) pursue a professional basketball career. In the lawsuit, Austin claims that the punishment caused him emotional distress and lessened his chances of one day playing in the National Basketball Association. His […]

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  • Foreign Student Branded a Rapist Could Die if University Sends Him Back to Syria, Suit Claims

    October 28, 2015

    By Greg Piper at The College Fix The consequences for students found responsible for sexual misconduct in the campus system usually end with expulsion, a curtailed career, drastically lower earning power and a ruined reputation that’s hard to repair. For a Syrian student at Pennsylvania State University, it could mean his death. The Legal Intelligencer reports that “John Doe” is suing the school for suspending him following its switch to an Title IX “investigative model” that “removed his ability to confront his accuser or call witnesses of his own.” He’s asking a federal judge to place his suspension on hold […]

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  • College Discipline For Serious Crimes Questioned

    December 20, 2014

    By Kelly Cernetich at The Washington Times ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) – Years ago, a student accused of cheating or plagiarism would likely appear before a student dean or disciplinary board for punishment. Now, students accused of offenses – including drug possession, theft, even sexual assault – may face that same board for a suspension or expulsion. Local college officials maintain that the boards try and usually succeed in making the right decision. But in the wake of a November magazine article that skewered a southern college for failing to act on allegations of gang rape, some have called into question […]

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  • Penn State Sexual Harassment Code Stifling Free Speech?

    December 10, 2014

    By Bob Kellogg at OneNewsNow After a Pennsylvania university adopted a sexual harassment code that it administered with good intentions, many are finding that it actually threatens the free speech rights of its students. Robert Shibley, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), says the Pennsylvania State University policy is so broad, it prohibits tremendous amounts free speech. He says it was patterned after the settlement the government reached with the University of Montana regarding their sexual assault policies. “Its settlement with Montana would be a blueprint for all schools, and unfortunately, in what it called that blueprint, […]

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  • Despite Tensions Over Tables, Penn State Speech Policy Checks Out, Professor Says

    October 7, 2014

    By Andrew Staub at When Penn State University officials clamped down on a Young Americans for Freedom event about free-speech policies because of a table — on Constitution Day, no less — it looked like a battle over the First Amendment could be brewing. Upon further review, Penn State’s policy isn’t unreasonable, even if it is a tad bureaucratic when it comes to tables. The university drew national attention last month when officials told YAF that they couldn’t have their table at the event because the group had not obtained pre-approval,as required by Penn State’s policy governing expressive activity outdoors. Chapter chairwoman Jolie […]

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  • PSU free speech comes under ‘fire’

    November 14, 2007

    Penn State free speech policies continue to concern Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which upheld the university’s “red light” rating after this fall’s reassessment. However, some university officials said the policies highlighted in FIRE’s report do not violate the First Amendment. The 8-year-old nonprofit organization, which, according to its Web site, claims to “defend and sustain individual rights” at universities, reassessed Penn State’s policies in September. FIRE’s Web site,, said the university received the rating because it “has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” “A ‘clear’ restriction is one […]

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  • Report: PSU restricts speech

    December 15, 2006

    Despite recent revisions, Penn State’s policies still restrict freedom of speech, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). According to a FIRE report released last week, 73 percent of public schools reviewed by FIRE received a “red-light” rating, meaning they “have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” Penn State has historically earned a red-light rating. Earlier this year, the university revised its policies on intolerance, nondiscrimination and harassment, but FIRE has not changed its rating of Penn State. Penn State agreed to solidify the policy revisions as part of a […]

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  • University presidents battle for honors in spinelessness

    May 1, 2006

    It’s time for this column to announce its Sheldon Award, given annually to the university president who does the most to look the other way when free speech is under assault on campus. As all Sheldon fans know, the prize is a statuette that looks something like the Oscar, except that the Oscar shows a man with no face looking straight ahead, whereas the Sheldon shows a man with no spine looking the other way. The award is named for Sheldon Hackney, former president of the University of Pennsylvania and a modern legend in looking the other way. College presidents, […]

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  • Ignorance of our founding principles can endanger us all

    March 5, 2006

    Here we go again. A new survey reveals that only about one in four Americans can name at least two of the First Amendment’s five freedoms: freedom of the press, religion, speech and assembly, as well as the right to petition government for redress of grievances. But 52 percent can name two or more members of TV’s “Simpsons.” More than 20 percent of Americans actually think the First Amendment gives us the right to own and raise pets! We shouldn’t be shocked. Americans’ — especially young Americans’ — woeful ignorance of history and civics has been documented repeatedly. The good […]

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  • Letter to the Editor

    September 8, 2005

    Free speech under attack I appreciate the Centre Daily Times’ recent coverage of the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education. This nonpartisan group is at the forefront of ensuring our campuses remain places of open and vigorous exchange of ideas. While the article was just an Associated Press report, a visit to the FIRE Web site by a CDT staffer would have added that FIRE gives Penn State one of its worst ratings with regard to freedom of speech. Why? Penn State has some pernicious speech codes that make John Ashcroft seem downright moderate. One of these codes regards any […]

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  • The Few, the Brave, and FIRE

    April 13, 2001

    The lead editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal analyzes the moral and civic significance of FIRE’s recent victories at Penn State University and at the University of Alaska.

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  • Who Do We Blame?

    April 10, 2001

    By William Buckley at National Review The case of a YAF student chapter at Penn State There was a great event in Pennsylvania two weeks ago but the background needs detailing. A student chapter of Young Americans for Freedom at Penn State was organized and, as routinely is the case on that campus, applied to (no less) the Undergraduate Student Government Supreme Court for registration as a student organization. YAF’s constitution contains a phrase, inherited from the founding organization statement in 1960, to the effect that human rights are “God-given” and therefore that human rights “derive from the right to be free from […]

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  • Penn State Cites Due Process in Delaying Punishment for Fraternity

    March 30, 2015

    Earlier this month, the national Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) fraternity suspended its Pennsylvania State University chapter after the discovery of a private Facebook page containing pictures of passed out and/or naked women, hazing, and drug deals allegedly posted by KDR members. Penn State President Eric Barron wrote in a statement sent to the university community that the situation may warrant a “re-evaluation of the fraternity system.” But Barron wrote in another statement last Monday that Penn State won’t be taking immediate disciplinary action against KDR or its members, despite calls for the university to do so. Barron made clear that […]

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  • Penn State Pushes Back Against Students’ and Senator’s Disinvitation Demands

    March 16, 2015

    Bill Ayers is no stranger to disinvitation attempts, and his recent invitation to speak at Pennsylvania State University predictably provoked opposition. Ayers is scheduled to speak at campus events on March 19 and 20, hosted by student groups using the funds allocated to them from student activity fees. Last Friday, a group of 11 students at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, led by Shohin Vance, wrote to administrators and requested that they cancel Ayers’s speaking engagements, arguing that “the law school does not benefit from giving an admitted domestic terrorist, who has shown no remorse for his actions such […]

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  • Speech Codes of the Year: 2014

    December 24, 2014

    Each month, FIRE singles out a particularly reprehensible campus speech code for our Speech Code of the Month designation. While all of 2014’s Speech Codes of the Month flagrantly violated students’ or faculty members’ right to free expression, two of them were so egregious that they deserve special mention as 2014’s Speech Codes of the Year. University of Richmond The University of Richmond’s Standards of Student Conduct (PDF) prohibit “disruption,” which includes, among other things, “inappropriate behavior or expression.” This extraordinarily broad and vague prohibition gives the university administration total discretion to punish virtually any speech that another person subjectively […]

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  • Speech Code of the Month: Pennsylvania State University

    December 8, 2014

    FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for December 2014: Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). At Penn State, “Sexual Harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is unwanted, inappropriate, or unconsented to.” This is a staggeringly broad definition that includes a tremendous amount of protected speech. According to the plain language of this policy, a single off-color joke or comment is sufficient to constitute sexual harassment if someone subjectively finds it inappropriate, or merely doesn’t consent to hearing it. This is a clear violation […]

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  • Constitution Day 2014: What a Difference a Year Makes

    September 18, 2014

    September 17, 2013—last year’s Constitution Day—turned out to be a dark moment in the history of free speech on America’s campuses. That was the day Robert Van Tuinen was stopped from handing out Constitutions on the campus of Modesto Junior College (MJC) in California. He had neglected to sign up to use the school’s tiny “free speech area,” the only place that a student was allowed to hand out literature. On the same day, an administrator at Citrus College (also in California) told student Vinny Sinapi-Riddle that he could be removed from campus for seeking another student’s signature on a […]

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  • Universities Must Not Intrude Upon Freedom of Conscience in ‘Values’ Statements

    January 16, 2014

    This winter, FIRE is running a series of blog posts about what makes a “green light” policy. So far, we have examined how universities can craft policies on harassment, civility, and computer usage that achieve their aims while still respecting students’ right to freedom of speech. Today we are going to talk about policies that infringe on students’ right to freedom of conscience, and about how universities can share their values with students without crossing the line into mandating agreement with those values. Just as the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, it also protects freedom of conscience—the right to keep our innermost thoughts free from governmental […]

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  • This Month in FIRE History: FIRE Secures the Rights of Penn State Student Group

    March 15, 2012

    Eleven years ago this month, FIRE secured an important victory for freedom of association at Pennsylvania State University (PSU). The case first began in December 2000, when PSU’s undergraduate Student Government Supreme Court informed the school’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) that the words of its constitution and mission statement (which had been adopted by the national organization in 1960), identifying rights as “God-given,” constituted religious “discrimination,” because the words reflected a “devotion to god.” Despite appeals from the YAF chapter, PSU’s Student Government Supreme Court upheld their decision and called on the chapter to remove the words. […]

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  • College Students Defy Free Speech Restrictions to Celebrate Death of Bin Laden

    May 2, 2011

    The announcement late last evening that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan inspired celebrations outside the White House, in New York City, and on a number of college campuses. Spontaneous gatherings in response to major events—such as beginning or ending a war, an assassination, a heinous campus crime—are natural and to be expected. Unfortunately, many colleges maintain “free speech zones” and other restrictions on demonstrations that ban students from spontaneous protests. Last night, students demonstrated anyway. Considering the importance of the event, it’s not surprising that police on some campuses put aside the rules in order to […]

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  • FIRE’s 2010 Video Campaign: Highlighting Censorship of Hot Button Issues, Part 2

    December 24, 2010

    In reviewing FIRE’s multimedia efforts at the close of 2010, I introduced our new video series on censorship of hot-button issues. Our second installment in this series, “Portraits of Terror,” is a key example of why video is so effective in relaying the stories behind our cases. In this case, it was images, not words, that were censored by university administrators. In 2006, Joshua Stulman, a student artist at Penn State University, produced an exhibit examining the promotion of terrorism and anti-Semitism in the Palestinian territories. But before Stulman’s exhibit opened, two professors claimed that the art violated Penn State’s policy […]

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  • ‘Portraits of Terror’ Exceeds 10,000 Views on YouTube

    November 3, 2010

    Another one of FIRE’s short films is gaining popularity on YouTube this week. Portraits of Terror portrays the case of Joshua Stulman, a student artist censored by Penn State administrators for presenting a satirical exhibition about terrorism in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and it has now exceeded 10,000 views. We’re excited that our video ventures are continuing to make a splash on the Internet’s most popular video site! If you haven’t yet, please take a moment to subscribe to FIRE’s YouTube channel to check out Portraits of Terror and our other short films. These films expose […]

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  • New FIRE Video: Sean Clark on Penn State’s Problem with ‘God-Given Free Will’

    October 26, 2010

    Today, FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network (CFN) has released a new video as part of a series featuring students and professors whose rights FIRE has defended. Sean Clark was part of a group at Penn State University, Young Americans for Freedom, whose charter included a reference to “God-given free will” as a reason to support individual liberty. When the student supreme court at Penn State revoked the group’s charter on the basis that this statement constituted religious discrimination, and the university upheld that decision, the group turned to FIRE for help. In Sean’s case, the story had a quick resolution: The day after […]

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  • New FIRE Video ‘Portraits of Terror’ Takes on Censorship of Art Examining Palestinian Terrorism

    September 27, 2010

    Today FIRE unveils the second video in our series examining censorship of hot-button issues on college campuses. Our new video, Portraits of Terror, tells the story of artist Joshua Stulman, whose exhibit of the same name was censored at Penn State University in 2006 by two professors who claimed that the art violated Penn State’s policy against “hate speech.” What was the focus of the exhibit, you might wonder? The exhibit “Portraits of Terror,” the entirety of which may be seen here, explores the promotion of terrorism and anti-Semitism in the Palestinian territories. Stulman, who is Jewish, focuses on the […]

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  • Portraits of Terror

    September 27, 2010

    The case of Joshua Stulman, a student artist censored by Penn State administrators for presenting a satirical exhibition about terrorism in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

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  • Censorship of Anti-Terrorism Art Exhibit Documented in New FIRE Video

    September 27, 2010

    PHILADELPHIA, September 27, 2010—A new short film by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) documents the experience of Penn State student artist Joshua Stulman, whose “Portraits of Terror” art exhibit was censored by the university because it satirized Islamic terrorism. Stulman is just one of numerous college students and faculty members who have been silenced for discussing or criticizing Islamic extremism. “Joshua Stulman’s art exhibit was censored not once but twice: first because administrators didn’t like what it had to say, and later out of fear that violence would ensue if his artwork were shown on campus,” said […]

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  • ADF’s David Hacker on Civility Codes as Speech Codes

    August 12, 2010

    Last week in The Christian Post, Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) Legal Counsel David J. Hacker took aim at an August 5, 2010, article titled “Rude Democracy” in Inside Higher Ed, written by Susan Herbst. Herbst discusses the perceived lack of civility in contemporary American discourse, both in the larger society and on university campuses, and argues that one solution to the problem as presented on campus is to maintain and enforce civility policies regulating student expression. Herbst writes that civility policies should play a major role in how universities counsel their students to behave on campus and should be used more prominently […]

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  • University of Louisville Responds Admirably to FIRE Concerns about New Policies

    January 25, 2010

    Back in June, as Will wrote, the University of Louisville was inviting comment about proposed changes to the school’s Code of Conduct, including a new Values Statement. FIRE was invited to review the drafts of the new policies by a faculty member concerned about possible violations of individual rights. We communicated a few comments and concerns to the university, and we learned today that essentially all of our concerns have been addressed in the new campus-wide Code of Conduct. Most of all, we recommended that the university follow Penn State’s lead in separating aspirational values from specific standards of conduct: […]

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  • Rights in the News: Recent Victories and Ongoing Speech Code Efforts Continue to Get FIRE’s Message Across

    February 6, 2009

    For yet another week, word of FIRE’s efforts has reverberated throughout the national and online press. As Azhar noted earlier today, Greg’s latest column for The Huffington Post expresses FIRE’s relief at the dropped “spamming” charges against Michigan State University junior Kara Spencer, but also notes our concern that the online policy Spencer was initially found guilty of violating remains in effect—and thus keeps Michigan State on FIRE’s Red Alert list. As Erin wrote earlier this week, FIRE figured prominently in two pieces in The Boston Herald; the first highlighting the candidacy of FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate for […]

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  • University at Buffalo Responds to Speech Code of the Month Inquiry

    January 30, 2009

    FIRE supporter and New York state resident Lee Brink recently wrote to University at Buffalo (also known as SUNY-Buffalo) President John Simpson to ask about the university residence halls’ Statement of Civility, which FIRE named our Speech Code of the Month for January 2009. The Statement of Civility provides that: Students are expected to act with civility. To be civil means to be courteous and polite or, simply put, to be mannerly.  Acts of incivility — whether verbal, written, or physical — will not be tolerated by the Residential Life community. In an e-mail to President Simpson, Brink asked: What […]

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  • Penn State Revises ‘Principles’ in Victory for Free Speech

    January 30, 2009

    In response to Pennsylvania State University being named FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month for September 2008, Penn State President Graham Spanier agreed to change the preamble to the Penn State Principles to clarify that protected expression will not be prohibited, investigated, or punished on campus. We wrote President Spanier to inform him of Penn State’s designation as our Speech Code of the Month for September 2008 this past December. In our letter, I discussed the constitutional problems presented by the Penn State Principles, which required Penn State students to state that they “will respect the dignity of all individuals […]

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  • Director: PSU limits students’ free speech

    December 12, 2008

    by Ben Skalina The Daily Collegian Online   Penn State students have their free speech rights unconstitutionally limited by the university and many may not know it. At least that’s what Adam Kissel has to say. Kissel, director of the individual rights defense program for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), made a return visit to Penn State Thursday night to speak about free speech rights and the unconstitutional limitations schools often put on those rights. Kissel, who spoke at the Association of Big Ten Students conference at Penn State in August, said colleges and universities that limit […]

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  • FIRE’s Adam Kissel to Speak at Penn State University This Thursday

    December 9, 2008

    Adam Kissel, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, will be giving a talk at Pennsylvania State University this Thursday. He has been invited to speak by CFN member Thomas Shakely, and his lecture is sponsored by the PSU student group Safeguard Old State. Adam’s free public lecture, “Liberty in Peril: Speech Codes on our Nation’s College Campuses,” will begin at 7:00 p.m. in Room 101 of the Thomas Building and will be followed by a question-and-answer period. As always, I encourage any Torch readers in the area around State College to come out and join Adam as he explores the […]

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  • Speech Code of the Month: Pennsylvania State University

    September 2, 2008

    FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for September 2008: Pennsylvania State University. Penn State owes this undesirable distinction to the Penn State Principles, a set of behavioral guidelines that “[i]t is understood that members of the Penn State community agree to abide by…to ensure that Penn State is a thriving environment for living and learning.” One of the principles states that “I will respect the dignity of all individuals within the Penn State community,” and provides that Actions motivated by hate, prejudice, or intolerance violate this principle. I will not engage in any behaviors that compromise or demean […]

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  • ‘USA Today’ Education Reporter Launches Higher Ed Blog: Penn State and FIRE Are Hot Topics

    December 11, 2007

    I was just contacted by reporter Mary Beth Marklein from USA Today about a post on her new blog regarding issues in higher education. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Mary Beth has written some excellent articles over the years highlighting speech codes and campus free speech controversies. Today she wanted to get my reaction to the recent news from Penn State, where photos of students attending a Halloween party dressed as victims of the Virginia Tech shootings have prompted outrage.   She writes: Penn State has had to weather some less-than-positive news of late, what with the […]

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  • Penn State’s Student Newspaper Advocates Policy Revision for Free Speech

    November 28, 2007

    Today’s edition of Penn State’s Daily Collegian features a compelling staff editorial titled “PSU should revise free speech policy.” The editorial focuses on Penn State’s idea, in the “Penn State Principles,” that all Penn State members, simply by being a part of the community, pledge not to “engage in any behaviors that compromise or demean the dignity of individuals or groups, including intimidation, stalking, harassment, discrimination, taunting, ridiculing, insulting, or acts of violence.” (Emphasis added.) The editorial rightly responds: No one wants to be demeaned or intimidated in their learning environment, but should making fun your friends’ bad haircuts or […]

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  • Free Speech Yet at Penn State?

    November 14, 2007

    Today’s Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, ran a story by Lauren McCormack on FIRE’s review and reaffirmation of Penn State’s “red light” speech code rating. Red light schools have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. The story, “PSU free speech comes under ‘fire,’” highlights FIRE’s concern with unconstitutional speech code language that remains even after Penn State settled a speech code lawsuit in 2006. The school’s “Statement on Intolerance” now states: The expression of diverse views and opinions is encouraged in the University community. Further, the First Amendment of the United States’ […]

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  • Free Speech under Attack during Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week

    October 25, 2007

    This week, as the Terrorism Awareness Project provides speakers at college campuses in order to increase awareness about terrorism of the Muslim extremist variety, the predictable has come to pass: speakers have been prevented by protesters from enjoying their freedom of speech. At Emory University, David Horowitz’s lecture ended prematurely when audience members refused to hear him out. A photo essay describes what protesters did to Nonie Darwish at Berkeley. Rick Santorum suffered a similar fate at Penn State. The Washington Times has a list of those who are blogging about such events here. Students who are hosting a screening […]

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  • FIRE Remembers September 11

    September 11, 2007

    Today, FIRE joins individuals across America and around the world in reflecting upon the tragic events of September 11, 2001. As university students and professors from Maine to California host commemorations today to remember those who suffered and died six years ago, we take a moment to look back at how those events played out on campus in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, and how their legacy continues to affect us today. In the wake of the tragedy, FIRE was called on to defend liberty on campus as many universities reacted to the cataclysmic circumstances with sometimes shocking limitations […]

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  • Student Suing Penn State for Art Censorship

    June 21, 2007

    Last April we reported that Penn State censored student Josh Stulman’s senior art exhibit, “Portraits of Terror,” which depicted Palestinian violence in Israeli settlements. Penn State’s reasons for canceling the exhibit ten days before it was set to open were that the exhibit “did not promote cultural diversity or opportunities for democratic dialogue.”   On April 17, 2007, Stulman—no longer a student at Penn State—filed a lawsuit against Penn State, President Graham Spanier, School of Visual Arts Director Charles Garoian, and Professor Robert Yarber. The complaint, posted at The Volokh Conspiracy, alleges that: Defendants Penn State University, Garoian and Yarber, […]

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  • Sliding Down the Slippery Slope

    April 4, 2007

    This morning, I nearly choked on my coffee when I read a story in The Daily Collegian that discussed a demand from the NCAA and PSU to a student to shutdown a group that advocated for a prospective student athlete to attend Penn State. According to the article, the student creator of the group, John Bove, received an email from the PSU NCAA Compliance Coordinator that demanded the group be shut down immediately because it could be perceived as violating recruiting regulations.   It is beyond me how private speech by a student, who does not appear to be connected […]

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  • Election Day on Campus

    November 7, 2006

    While most universities nominally encourage students’ political activism, several universities have undermined students’ attempts to voice their political opinions in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections.   Lafayette College President Daniel Weiss cancelled a scheduled visit to campus by Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann, who was invited to speak on campus by the College Republicans. To his credit, Weiss admitted his mistake in an apology to the campus community. As Weiss stated that he plans to draft policies to ensure that Lafayette does not make the same mistake in the future, FIRE sent him a letter yesterday […]

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  • Update on Student Government at Penn State

    October 13, 2006

    In March, FIRE discussed the dubious actions of the Penn State administration in abolishing the student government and replacing it with a weaker version that was supposed to be more functional. Elections for the new student government, UPUA, were held earlier this week and the newly elected UPUA president recently discussed his feelings about the new organization in the student newspaper. Visit the Daily Collegian’s website to read the new president’s views on the future of UPUA and the students who elected him.

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  • What 9/11 Taught Us About Academia

    September 11, 2006

    Today, FIRE joins the rest of the nation in remembering the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Five years ago, the events of 9/11 highlighted—in a very ugly way—just how out of touch many universities are with the American public. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when much of America was still in mourning, a number of very prominent universities moved swiftly to suppress displays of public sympathy and patriotism by students and faculty. Here are some examples of university actions in September and October 2001: At Central Michigan University, an administrator told several students to remove various patriotic posters […]

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  • Penn State: Pulling the Wool over Your Eyes

    May 25, 2006

    Today, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Penn State attempted to play damage control after significantly altering two patently unconstitutional policies. In what is probably the lamest justification for doing so, the Penn State tried to claim that, “These changes do appear to match up well with the interests of the plaintiff…but the revision would have been made in this manner regardless of any legal action.”   So the fact that Penn State was sued in federal court had absolutely nothing to do with an abrupt alteration in policies? Next time, Penn State might want to make sure that the […]

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  • Penn State Settles Lawsuit

    May 22, 2006

    Today, the Alliance Defense Fund announced that it has settled a portion of its lawsuit against Penn State, which agreed to drop its speech code and clarify other policies. Congratulations to ADF and to our former president and Legal Network attorney David French!   Penn State did the right thing by settling the lawsuit and recognizing its duty to obey the Constitution. But, at the same time, it is important to note that universities shouldn’t have to face the threat of a lawsuit in order to compel changes to patently unconstitutional policies.   Hopefully, this will serve as a wake […]

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  • Did Penn State Rescind Its Speech Code?

    May 22, 2006

    While being faced with a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of several university policies, Penn State University appears to have rescinded its speech codes.   Sometime over the weekend, with no announcement, Penn State changed two of its policies that were cited in the lawsuit. Penn State’s “AD29 Statement on Intolerance“ no longer bans attitude, feeling or belief in furtherance of which an individual acts to intimidate, threaten or show contempt for other individuals or groups based on characteristics such as age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, political belief, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation or veteran status. […]

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  • Brandeis Takes a Stab at Art Censorship

    May 3, 2006

    Israeli–Palestinian art is the subject of more controversy this week, this time at Brandeis University. As an article in today’s Boston Globe (membership required) explains, Brandeis pulled an exhibit by Israeli student Lior Halperin, who arranged for Palestinian teenagers to paint images that would bring the Palestinian point of view to the Brandeis campus. The exhibit, according to the Globe article, featured such scenes as a girl with pigtails lying in a pool of blood and a young amputee in a Palestinian tent city. The exhibit was scheduled to run in the Brandeis library for two weeks, but was removed […]

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  • That Exhibit Is Going to Go Up

    April 26, 2006

    Penn State leaders have reversed the School of Visual Arts’ decision to censor the exhibit of Josh Stulman. The Daily Collegian reports that at a University Faculty Senate meeting yesterday, Penn State President Graham Spanier said, “That exhibit is going to go up. The offer has been extended and may be displayed this spring or not until the fall.” After Charles Garoian, a professor in the School of Visual Arts, told Stulman that he could not display his exhibit because it “did not promote cultural diversity” or “opportunities for democratic dialogue,” Garoian and Bill Mahon, a spokesman for the university, […]

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  • Penn State Gets It Wrong

    April 25, 2006

    Pennsylvania State University administrators are again trampling the rights of their students. On Friday, The Daily Collegian, the campus student newspaper, reported [Link updated by FIRE on 9/27/10 due to disappearance of article on original website] that Penn State’s School of Visual Arts cancelled the opening of a student’s exhibit. Staff writer Jessica Remitz reports: Three days before his 10-piece exhibit—Portraits of Terror—was scheduled to open at the Patterson Building, [Josh] Stulman (senior-painting and anthropology) received an e-mail message from the School of Visual Arts that said his exhibit on images of terrorism “did not promote cultural diversity” or “opportunities […]

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  • Penn State: Do the Right Thing

    April 20, 2006

    Recently, Penn State University sent out a press release discussing an event called “Illegal Immigration Awareness Day” being planned by the College Republicans. Although provocative, the event itself is not the interesting part. What is notable are the comments made by the administration concerning the students’ right to hold the event. Terrell Jones, Vice Provost for Educational Equity, stated: The College Republicans certainly have a Constitutional right to conduct such an event, offensive as it may appear to some in the community. In protecting everyone’s right to free expression, the University cannot censor the content of student-organized events. (emphasis added) […]

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  • Penn State to Address the Nuisance of Democracy

    March 21, 2006

    Americans have long considered liberty and democracy the twin essentials for maintaining a free society. At Penn State, administrators are working their hardest to eliminate both of them. When it comes to liberty, Penn State has been deficient for some time. The institution has earned a red light rating on FIRE’s Spotlight for its unconstitutional speech code. This is more important than ever now that former FIRE President David French is suing Penn State to overturn its speech code, which, among other provisions, bans things like “unwelcome banter, teasing, or jokes that are derogatory.” (It really makes you wonder whether […]

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  • The Price of Dissent at Penn State

    March 3, 2006

    Penn State University, which has already been sued for its unconstitutional speech codes, is now further trampling student rights by threatening to dissolve and replace the self-functioning, independent student organization Undergraduate Student Government (USG) with a new student government called the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA). Although the matter is rather complicated, a group called Safeguarding Traditions at Penn State has an excellent list of articles piecing it together.   Events leading up to this situation started in September 2005. USG President Galen Foulke, a proponent of this new student government, first attempted to make this change by amending the […]

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  • There Is No Such Thing as ‘Hate Speech’

    February 24, 2006

    Yes, that is correct. “Hate speech” is not a category of speech recognized under current constitutional law. It is merely a convenient way to pigeonhole speech that some people find offensive. But what is very troubling is when people begin to treat “hate speech” as unprotected speech. For example, a student leader at Penn State, a university which was recently sued for its unconstitutionally vague and overbroad speech codes, made the following comment featured in a prominent article in the student newspaper The Daily Collegian: “We support any and all university policies that prohibit intolerant actions against any student on […]

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  • Free Speech Lawsuits Filed Against Penn State and Temple

    February 23, 2006

    There’s some good news for students at some of Pennsylvania’s biggest public institutions this week—your institutions just got one step closer to protecting free speech instead of suppressing it. FIRE Legal Network attorney (and former president) David French, now working with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), has filed a nine-count First Amendment lawsuit against Penn State for violating its students’ right to due process as well as their freedoms of expression, association, conscience, and religion. For good measure, he also challenged their unconstitutional “free speech zone” policy. At the same time, French filed a lawsuit against Temple University for retaliation, […]

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  • Phi Beta Kappa Should Prove Its Commitment to Free Speech: Part 2

    January 30, 2006

    In a Wall Street Journal article published earlier this month, writer Daniel Golden tackled the explicitly evangelical Wheaton College, which recently fired a professor for converting to Catholicism. In that article, Golden mentions that the honor society Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) objects to colleges’ violations of free speech and open inquiry. He wrote: Phi Beta Kappa, the honors society, hasn’t established a chapter at any of the evangelical colleges that make up the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, including Wheaton. Kelly Gerald, a spokeswoman, says the society wants to uphold what it sees as the values inherent in the […]

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  • FIRE’s Mitchell in the Harrisburg ‘Patriot-News’

    January 5, 2006

    An important column by FIRE Program Officer Charles Mitchell appears today in the Harrisburg Patriot-News. In response to Rep. Dan Surra’s comment that the Pennsylvania Legislature’s Select Committee on Student Academic Freedom, a committee on which Surra serves, is a “colossal waste of time,” Charles argues for the necessity of the committee. He highlights three Pennsylvania public institutions with unconstitutional speech codes, including Penn State, Surra’s alma mater.   Charles writes: Policies like Penn State’s, Lincoln’s and IUP’s are widespread at Pennsylvania’s public universities. That makes one wonder why Surra thinks a committee investigating violations of academic freedom is such […]

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  • Speech codes make universities intolerant

    January 5, 2006

    Have you ever known a legislator who didn’t think his job was terribly important?Imagine the campaign slogan: “Elect me, because who really cares?” Or the direct-mail letters: “It’d be nice if you sent me a donation — but it doesn’t really matter.” The very concept is ridiculous. But apparently someone forgot to tell that to state Rep. Dan Surra, D-Elk. Surra has been quoted in the news media as calling a committee on which he himself serves a “colossal waste of time.” This “colossal waste” is the bipartisan Select Committee on Student Academic Freedom, established last year via House Resolution […]

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  • Site used to aid investigations

    November 10, 2005

    That kid in your biology class isn’t the only person viewing your profile on — your Saturday night antics may have a wider audience than you ever imagined., a vastly popular online social network for college students, is one of many methods that the Penn State University Police are using to identify and prosecute fans who rushed the field after the Oct. 8 Ohio State game, said University Police Assistant Director Tyrone Parham. “We are doing as much as we can to identify people who violated the law,” Parham said. “Facebook is a method we are using, but […]

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  • Letter from Penn State President Graham B. Spanier to FIRE, October 28, 2001

    October 28, 2001

    October 28, 2001 Alan Charles Kors President Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Inc. 437 Chestnut Street, Suite 200 Philadelphia, PA 19106 Dear Mr. Kors: Thank you for writing to express your concerns related to First Amendment rights at Pennsylvania State University. As you well know, as a public university we cherish our role as a marketplace of ideas and have a long-standing tradition of academic freedom and protection of First Amendment rights. I’ve reviewed the email exchange in question, and it did not appear to me that it was an attack on free speech for Vice Provost Secor to […]

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  • FIRE Letter to Penn State University President Graham Spanier, October 24, 2001

    October 24, 2001

    October 24, 2001 Graham B. Spanier President Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA 16802 Re: Professor Stephen G. Simpson Dear President Spanier: As you know, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, legal equality, freedom of expression, and, in the case of Professor Stephen G. Simpson, free speech and academic freedom on America’s college campuses. Our web page,, will give you a greater sense of our identity and of our activities. We were deeply impressed by […]

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  • Letter from Penn State YAF Chairman Jeffery A. Budney FIRE, April 10, 2001

    April 10, 2001

    Dear Mr. Kors: On behalf of Penn State Young Americans for Freedom and all who value liberty in Happy Valley I would like to thank you and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for your help in our recent dispute with our university’s administration. The support you and your staff provided to us in this matter was invaluable and we greatly appreciate your efforts. The tide of political correctness at America’s universities is often unpredictable as was the case of our recent problem. When submitting our constitution for approval after a routine revision this past fall, I had no […]

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  • FIRE Secures the Rights of Penn State’s Young Americans for Freedom

    March 26, 2001

    PHILADELPHIA—A student group at Penn State University (PSU) won a momentous victory when the University reversed a ruling of the student government that had stripped the group’s constitution and mission statement of words found to be “discriminatory.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) urgently brought the case to the attention of Penn State’s President Graham Spanier, who immediately instructed a student-faculty oversight committee to revisit the case in the light of their obligation to protect freedom of speech and association at PSU. In December 2000, the undergraduate Student Government Supreme Court informed PSU’s chapter of Young Americans for […]

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  • Letter from Penn State President Graham B. Spanier to FIRE, March 12, 2001

    March 12, 2001

    March 12, 2001 Dear Mr. Kors: Thank you for your recent letter regarding your concerns about Penn State’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. As you know, I have been out of town until today. I was not aware of the recent decision made by the Undergraduate Student Government.However, upon reviewing information provided by our Office of Student Affairs, I must agree with your assessment: The Young Americans for Freedom should be granted registration as a student organization. I am pleased to say that the Undergraduate Student Government Supreme Court met today and reversed its earlier decision. Registration has been […]

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