According to the University of Pennsylvania’s student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, an event involving acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Thomas Homan was canceled after Penn students disrupted the proceedings.
The discussion, scheduled to involve several people (see below) was sponsored by Perry World House, self-described as “a center for scholarly inquiry, teaching, research, international exchange, policy engagement and public outreach on pressing global issues.” In other words, it’s a university think tank. A perusal of its website doesn’t indicate that it’s a particularly right-wing organization, but of course if they invite anyone connected with ICE in today’s political climate, they should know what the consequences will be.
Click on the screenshot to read the Daily Penn piece:
Students wielding signs that read, “Abolish ICE” and “No one is illegal on stolen land,” gathered inside and outside of Perry World House minutes before the “Detention and Deportation from Obama to Trump” event, which was scheduled to take place from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Before the protest, more than 500 students and alumni signed a petition demanding that Penn cancel the event because of controversial policies Homan implemented when he led ICE.
Note that the sign above suggests that there is no such thing as illegal immigration in the U.S., or, to be sure, in many other countries as well. It’s a call for either open borders or no borders. The article continues:
At about 4:45 p.m., protesters lined the outside of the building and sat in the event room filled with attendees. The students inside were chanting, “No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here” and “Go home Homan.”
An official standing in front of the audience attempted to talk about Penn’s First Amendment rights and the event’s intention over the protesters, but they continued chanting.
At about 5 p.m., the speakers — including Homan, former Philadelphia City Solicitor Sozi Tulante, and former ICE Public Advocate Andrew Lorenzen-Strait — walked on stage as the chanting grew louder. Homan was chuckling and talking to Lorenzen-Strait, who was seated next to him. Fifteen minutes later, the speakers were escorted off the stage by an organizer, who announced the event was canceled.
The students cheered as the speakers left, for the students had won, of course. They got what they wanted: the censorship of one individual who represents a policy and an administration they abhor. And Penn allowed the protestors to win. Where was security? Why didn’t administrators remove those who disrupted the event? This would never have happened at the University of Chicago.
The deplatforming occurred after more than 400 Penn alumni and students had signed this petition demanding that Homan’s appearance be canceled. But, of course, there was more just than an objection to a talk, there were the inevitable DEMANDS. These “demands” followed a declaration that Homan’s appearance was inimical to Penn’s mission:
Penn cannot credibly champion diversity and inclusivity, nor can it ethically profit from the contributions of its immigrant community, while being ambivalent to the anti-immigrant animus Homan’s legacy embodies.
Perry World House, a space that claims to “educate the Penn community and prepare students to be well-informed, contributing global citizens,” bears a responsibility to employ judiciousness when choosing speakers to invite to campus. Selecting Homan, whose work and actions directly oppose the goals and values the university claims to uphold, defies Dr. Gutmann’s pledge to Penn’s immigrant students, staff, and faculty.
In this spirit, we demand that:
1. The invitation extended to Thomas Homan for the event on October 23rd be rescinded and the event be cancelled.
2. Penn reassert its commitment to creating a safe learning environment for undocumented students and refrains from inviting current and past ICE and Customs and Border Protection personnel. [JAC: Note that this bans all employees of a government organization, no matter when they were members]
3. Perry World House institutes an advisory board made up of diverse students, faculty, and staff to help create events that are reflective of the needs of all the Penn community. [JAC: what they mean is “reflective of the ideology of the left-wing students”]
4. Given the uncertainty around DACA, Penn commits to creating an immigrant support fund and paying the DACA renewal fees of students, faculty, and staff.
This is simply the tedious and now-familiar repetition of the claims that a University’s must invite only those speakers who uphold the University’s “values,” characterized here as favoring diversity, inclusivity, and a welcome to all immigrants, legal or not.
In contrast, the University of Chicago (I have to brag here), while having a code of conduct that prohibits discrimination and harassment, does not itself profess any specified set of political or ideological values. True, nearly all professors here (and in most schools) align with the Left, but those are the values of individual faculty. That’s why U of C students cannot credibly claim that a given speaker “violates the values that the University upholds.”
The primary value a university should uphold is the value of seeking truth, and going wherever that search should lead. That itself mandates nearly absolute freedom of speech, or at least a freedom consonant with the U.S. courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment.
Penn failed here miserably. It’s telling that none of the dozen-plus students who protested were willing to go on record to the newspaper, save one who said almost nothing (see below):
“Before the event even began, chanting by some members of the audience made it impossible to hold a constructive conversation. Since our founding, Perry World House has been deeply engaged with the timely and sensitive issue of immigration,” Perry World House Communications Director John Gans wrote in an email to the DP [Daily Pennsylvanian].
“Members of the Penn community may disagree with a particular speaker at these events, but having conversations about those differences is part of what makes universities such as Penn essential locations for free inquiry, free expression, debate, and dialogue,” Gans added.
College junior Erin O’Malley, who participated in the protest, said she was not surprised the event was quickly shut down.
“There are a lot of people who are passionate at Penn,” O’Malley said. “When all these people come together, things like that can definitely happen and usually does happen.”
The gulf between Gans and O’Malley seems unbridgeable. O’Malley, who seems to represent the general sentiment of protestors, completely fails to understand that there’s any value in listening to someone representing a government or agency you dislike.
Many people hold college administrators responsible for student cluelessness about free speech. And indeed, at places like Oberlin, Evergreen State, and Williams College, that may well be true. But there are too many administrators and faculty touting freedom of speech at too many schools to pretend that college students don’t know about the value of such speech. If college administrators have failed at anything, it’s at disciplining those students who prevent others from speaking.
Shame on you, Penn! Although you’re a private school, you’re also an Ivy League school, and should therfore adhere to the First Amendment. Censoring speakers, or rather allowing students to do that, means you’re not doing your job.