The Coalition for a Just University joins with the Penn State chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the Penn State Students Against Sexist Violence, University Park Undergraduate Association, Lion PRIDE, Queer and Trans People of Color, and the many other students, staff, and faculty who have expressed outrage at the impending visit of Milo Yiannopoulos and the “Pray the Gay Away” event. We are especially concerned that the Penn State administration is promulgating a specious interpretation of the right to free speech in defense of its decision to allow this event to occur. The First Amendment prohibits government interference in the expression of controversial views. It does not require universities to provide a platform for a speaker who has a history of verbal attacks on LGBTQ+ people, women, Muslims, and many other groups—especially when the speaker is receiving an $18,000 honorarium (funded by student fees), and the organizers of the event are charging admission for non-student members of the public and those desiring VIP access to the speaker. The Penn State administration, in other words, is facilitating the generation of profit from an event that will jeopardize the safety and well-being of members of the university community.
Even if one believes that the university is legally bound by the First Amendment to grant permission for the event, the administration should have denied Uncensored America’s request for the use of campus space on the basis of multiple errors in its application, which suggest an intent to sidestep university policies. As the request records in the online 25Live system reveal, the group erroneously claimed that the speaker would not be paid; it affirmed that no minors would be present (even though its online ticketing site states that it is open to all age groups); and in response to the form’s request for a “Detailed Description of event,” they stated only that “A very special guest will deliver a speech on a wide range of issues and take questions from the audience. The speaker and details are TBD.” Despite this secrecy and misinformation, the request for space was granted with unusual haste. It also appears that the university is allowing Uncensored America to use the space for free—which is unusual given that members of the general public will be charged admission—and there are several false statements in the organization’s request for funding from the University Park Allocation Committee as well as indications that it is in violation of its own constitution and thus subject to suspension. These details clearly point to the fact that the Penn State administration did not follow its own guidelines for “Ethical Decision Making,” or its own requirements for what constitutes a student group eligible to receive student funding or reserve space.
In facilitating this event, the Penn State administration is emboldening those with far-right views to target LGBTQ+ people and others whom this provocateur maligns. As faculty members, we are concerned that this event will create a hostile work environment for many faculty, staff, and other employees, in particular for our LGBTQ+ colleagues. In fact, several faculty members have already filed a harassment and bias complaint with PSU’s Affirmative Action office regarding the poster publicizing the event, and we encourage others to do the same. We hope that the university administration has carefully considered the responsibility it will bear for the damaging fallout this speaker’s words will generate. CJU stands in solidarity with the student-organized Love Is Louder event hosted by the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, just as we affirm the right of students and all others to organize protests in direct opposition to Yiannopoulos’s speech.
The Faculty of the Coalition for a Just University (including faculty of all ranks from across disciplines and across the Commonwealth)