“Stop Penntrification!”: Penn Students and House Activists Stop Convocation for New Students

We recently discussed students at Marquette University blocking the convocation for students at the start of the new school year. Now students have shut down the University of Pennsylvania’s freshmen convocation with President Liz Magill. The students were demanding that the school  help in an eviction case near campus. According to Inside Higher Education, Daily Pennsylvanian, and College Fix, there is an eviction of a nearby affordable housing complex that led students and outside protesters to stop the convocation.  Some 70 units are scheduled to be sold.Magill started to speak and was forced to sit down. After an effort to quiet the protest, she resumed only to be interrupted again.The protest over the sale of the units is an important free speech activity for the school. It is also something worth of debate at the school. However, as at Marquette, the protesters stopped other students and families from an important part of their college experience, a convocation that the protesters were allowed when they were incoming students. The protesters selected an event that would deny other students one of the most memorable moments of their education.There is a difference. It does not appear that the protesters stormed the stage. If this were a room or class where protesters disrupted the event, it would present a different issue. This appears a public and outdoor area. From accounts, it seems that the protest was allowed to come in close proximity with the stage and drowned out the speakers. That is why I do not believe that discipline is warranted in this case as opposed to those at Marquette.  Penn could have taken steps to assure that the convocation was confined to incoming students and their families with space from any protesters.

Blocking others from speaking is not the exercise of free speech. It is the very antithesis of free speech. Nevertheless, faculty have supported such claims. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned).

I believe that preventing other students from experiencing this rite of passage was wrong and worthy of discipline. However, if these protesters were apparently allowed into a public open area, it is a more difficult question.

When students violate rules or occupy spaces or storm stages, I believe sanctions are appropriate in the form of an official reprimand or even a suspension. That should be accompanied with a warning that any similar disruption of a convocation or graduation in the future would result in expulsion. That does not mean that they cannot protest such events. The students have a free speech right to protest at the convocation. They do not have the right to storm the stage and disrupt the convocation. This protest harmed other students. The same is true for preventing classes from being held by storming a classroom, as was the situation previously discussed at Northwestern.

Unfortunately, these protesters were unwilling to allow these new students to have their convocation. It is an unfortunate sign of our times. We may find it difficult in the future to simply allow important open events like convocations on our campuses. However, our students should be able to experience convocations and graduations as important rites of passage.

11 thoughts on ““Stop Penntrification!”: Penn Students and House Activists Stop Convocation for New Students”

  1. “When students violate rules or occupy spaces or storm stages, I believe sanctions are appropriate . . .”

    Here’s a more effective strategy (borrowed from someone else):

    You hire an actor to play heckler. He stands up to heckle. Security shoots him — complete with Hollywood special effects.

    Problem solved.

    (For the sarc-challenged, that was sarc.)

  2. Maybe they could use their Parent’s 80k for 1-year of tuition to pay for the rent for some of the poor displaced persons and go to a community college instead. Having gone to U of Chicago and Penn on full scholarship many years I noticed it was always the trust fund brats who were the most radical and disruptive. I would not give Penn a penny donation given its anti-free speech attitudes; its promotion of transgender sports, as well as it Biden/Chinese corruption.

  3. I just posted the following on JT’s article about how almost college professors are almost universally liberal today. It’s interesting to me that it seems to apply equally as well to this topic.

    In my view, one major factor that has led to this sad reality is that, ironically, a key pillar of today’s “liberal” political strategy is complete intolerance (to the point of meanness) of any view that disagrees with theirs. As they have become increasingly progressive, their positions have become more based on feelings and less on logic and reason. As a result, rather than actually debate the true merits of either side’s position, they just simply shut down the other side with name-calling and word manipulation. There is no real discussion of any data and facts that support their views. A good current example is our President calling people who believe in policies like America First or controlling our borders semi-fascist without providing any specificity for why that is the case. Just calling them evil means plenty of gullible people will believe it without asking “How is that exactly?”, and that achieves their goal of feeling good about themselves and getting and staying in power.

  4. President Martha Pollack of Cornell University appears to be a member of the “disruptive speech IS free speech” crowd as well.

  5. Is this going to become a trend?
    Show up at every convocation to protest . . . something.
    Great way to ruin someone else’s day. I am sure they would argue their cause is more just and they have the right to be disrespectful.

    Funny thought, what if more than one group shows up to protest and they get into a fight over who gets to interrupt more?

  6. Professor Turley is parsing the baloney too generously, I think. If one wants more of these self-centered, socially-destructive kinds of demonstrations the surest way of getting them is to allow the perpetrators to go unpunished. In other words, reward their bad behavior then claim you’re a passionate defender of free speech. Absolute nonsense. All involved in ruining Convocations and poisoning the experience for hundreds of innocent people should, at the very least, be suspended and the organizers expelled. These protests would end very quickly. When will the universities and their spineless administrators stop rewarding bad behavior?

  7. I saw a CBS News interview with C.T. Amber [Columbia, JD; Princeton, AB (?); Georgetown, MA] yesterday. She’s certainly over-schooled but woefully under-educated. She kept playing the First-Amendment bamboo flute which the interviewer encouraged with head nods and murmurs of agreements. Not all theater in NYC is on Broadway.
    Oberlin College is said to have hired ten or more white-shoe Cleveland law firms to make its case. When I heard this woman rinse and repeat the First Amendment argument while throwing bits of “sympathy” to the Gibsons, I figure this pose in which she’s been tutored must be considered to play well with a national audience
    but it has the credibility of a seven dollar bill.
    Where are the trustees of this joint? When will they be heard? When will Amber amble out of Oberlin, Ohio to return to the more comfortable environment on the East Coast?

  8. time to end all federal aid to colleges. IF the college is worth it…then people will FUND IT!

    This is funding the Hitler Youth!

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