Penn Bans Protest Encampments From Its Campus for the First Time


The University of Pennsylvania issued temporary rules on Thursday that significantly rein in protests on campus and, for the first time, explicitly ban encampments. The action came less than a month after the police cleared away a pro-Palestinian encampment at the university and arrested 33 people.

Scores of encampments protesting Israel’s war in Gaza have sprung up at universities across the country this spring, leading to more than 3,000 arrests since mid-April and heightened tensions between students and universities.

“To ensure the safety of the Penn community and to protect the health and property of individuals, encampments and overnight demonstrations are not permitted in any university location, regardless of space (indoor or outdoor),” Penn’s new rules for protests say, adding, “Unauthorized overnight activities will be considered trespassing and addressed.”

The rules also forbid protests that prevent speakers on campus from expressing their views or “other members of the community from hearing or seeing the speaker.” And they bar students from projecting slogans onto buildings or writing slogans on them in semi-permanent or permanent chalk or marker.

Penn’s administration said that the new rules, which will be reviewed by a faculty-led task force in the 2024-25 academic year, were issued in response to calls for more clarity about what was permitted on campus.

The administration said that the rules “aim to enable free expression while allowing Penn to deliver its core missions of teaching, research, service and patient care without disruption.” The university said that students who violated the rules would face disciplinary action, but did not go into details.

The temporary rules will go into effect immediately, Penn’s interim president, J. Larry Jameson, said in a letter to university staff members.

Universities nationwide have been grappling with how to deal with the pro-Palestinian protests, with leaders at times struggling to balance free speech with the safety of students on campus. The demonstrations at Penn and other universities have contributed to threats to pull federal funding, spearheaded by Republican members of Congress.

On Monday, Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who leads the House committee that has held several hearings on campus antisemitism, and the chairs of five other committees told Penn in a letter that they were conducting a review of the university’s entitlement to federal funds.

Similar letters went out to nine other universities, including Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rutgers, Northwestern and the University of California, Berkeley.

Penn’s new rules are a direct consequence of the protests that have shaken the university for most of the past academic year.

In May, the police cracked down on at least two protests: Days after clearing the encampment, they arrested 19 people trying to occupy a university building. In response to the encampment crackdown, the executive committee of Penn’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors condemned what it called “repressive action” by the school’s administration and “a cowardly, shameful attempt to silence and punish speech.”

But the unrest at Penn began before the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Jewish alumni and organizations had lobbied the university president at the time, M. Elizabeth Magill, to shut down a Palestinian literary festival planned for September, which they said had become a platform for antisemitic rhetoric. She refused.

Ms. Magill’s support eroded as pro-Palestinian students demonstrated on campus, donors threatened to withhold tens of millions of dollars, and the advisory board of Penn’s business school demanded that the university change its leadership.

Her fate was sealed on Dec. 5, when she testified before Congress along with the presidents of Harvard and M.I.T. When asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate university codes of conduct, all three presidents said it would depend on the context, leading to an uproar and calls for their resignations.

Four days later, Ms. Magill resigned, ending the shortest tenure of any Penn president. About a month later, Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, stepped down, too.

When Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, testified before the same House committee in April, she took a different tack, calling the police to clear an encampment one day after the hearing. That approach backfired as some faculty members accused her of trying to appease Republicans, and the action sparked the nationwide protest movement.

Some encampments, including at Harvard, have been dismantled peacefully through negotiations. Others have been cleared by the police. But even negotiations have not prevented universities from punishing students, who in some cases have been barred from receiving their diplomas and marching at commencement, pending the outcome of their disciplinary cases.

Mattathias Schwartz contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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