Controversial Speakers & Protesters on Campus

Photo Credit: Chris Meiamed

“Protesters should not be permitted to shut down or shout down the speech, preventing others from hearing the speaker.”



  • Once a body has decided to extend an invitation to a campus speaker, the choice to withdraw it must meet far more stringent criteria.
  • Except in the most extreme cases, concerns over threats of violence or the potential outbreak of violence should not be grounds for canceling a controversial speech or event.
  • That a campus event may be colored by protests should also not be a factor in a decision to withdraw an invitation.
  • When a speaking invitation sparks protests, those who object and wish to protest should have an opportunity to make themselves heard.
  • Protesters should not be permitted to shut down or shout down the speech, preventing others from hearing the speaker.

Addressing concerns that recent campus controversies may lead a rising generation to grow alienated from core American values of free speech, PEN America released the “PEN America Principles on Campus Speech” to help guide university students, faculty, and administrators to advance inclusion and equality while safeguarding intellectual and academic freedom.

The Principles were released as part of the groundbreaking investigative report titled And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities, which examines the future of free speech in American higher education. While declaring that there is no current crisis for free speech on campus, the report notes, “Free speech advocates face an urgent task to articulate how unfettered expression can be reconciled with acute demands for greater equality and inclusion, and, indeed, how such freedoms are essential to the realization of these goals.”

The full report is available here:

About PEN America:

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of more than 100 centers of PEN International. Our strength is in our membership—a nationwide community of more than 4,000 novelists, journalists, poets, essayists, playwrights, editors, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals. For more information, visit


One thought on “Controversial Speakers & Protesters on Campus”

  1. After the recent controversy with speakers in Berkeley this article puts perspective on the ideals of free speech. Thankful that the writer shared this with us and keeping us all informed.

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