Today, numerous organizations concerned with free speech and academic freedom are urging lawmakers and the Penn State University Administration to respect students’ rights in response to a student event—"Sex Faire"—that was held in early February on the campus of Penn State.

The event, funded by Womyn’s Concerns, an organization of students at PSU, was organized to educate students about various sexual issues including health concerns, date rape, sexual liberation and sexual consent. Critics charge some of the events were deliberately provocative and seek to penalize the university by withholding funding.

State Rep. John Lawless, in particular, has voiced his disapproval of the event often in the past month referring to it as "a disgrace", "an embarrassment", "debauched" and "wrong". Lawless has also stated that Penn State should have its funding cut as punishment for failing to provide moral leadership. The attack is particularly timely as Pennsylvania lawmakers are currently deliberating funding issues for Penn State University.

This week, PSU President Graham Spanier was grilled for four hours by Pennsylvania lawmakers who repeatedly urged him to condemn the event, when he appeared before the House Appropriations Committee (which Lawless sits on). It was there that Spanier acknowledged lawmakers’ concerns but refused to say the event was immoral, as many lawmakers pressed him to do. Indeed, while Spanier apologized if aspects of the event offended anyone, he also made it clear that Penn State was committed to protecting PSU students’ First Amendment rights.

The controversy, which is sure to reverberate at other institutions, could lead to a wide range of actions that may spell trouble for students’ free speech rights. Among them are restrictions on state funding, censoring student publications and limiting events to only university students.

"The idea that students, in an institution that should value diversity of thought, should have to limit their speech merely because others find it distasteful and controversial is an affront to not only the idea of academic freedom but also the right to free speech," said Gary Daniels, a spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Censorship.

Mark Goodman, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center added, "perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this whole situation is the repeated attempts to hold a university official accountable for student speech. Clearly, everyone should recognize that student speech does not imply university endorsement of that speech."

"Students attend colleges and universities to search for knowledge and to develop the capacity for critical judgment," stated Iris Molotsky, a spokeswoman for the American Association of University Professors. "When those responsible for safeguarding students’ free inquiry and free expression attempt to curtail it, all citizens, not just students, can be harmed," added Molotsky.

National Coalition Against Censorship
American Association of University Professors
Student Press Law Center
Online Policy Group
First Amendment Project
Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression
Electronic Frontier Foundation

For More Information Contact:

Gary Daniels
Media Affairs Coordinator
National Coalition Against Censorship
212/807-6222 x22