How are they allowed to say that? What are boundaries of free speech?
Universities are bound by laws and rules, and by their own policies, to protect speech on their campus and by their members, regardless of its content. The University has neutral rules about acceptable speech, often referred to as ‘time, place, and manner’ regulations, and which protect the normal operation of the school. For example, you cannot block buildings, or use amplification in a way that disrupts class, regardless of what you say.
What about hate speech?
Hate speech is very hard to define in a way that would allow institutions to address it. Even if we could define it, we could not prevent or punish hate speech, because it is protected under the First Amendment. While as a private institution we are not subject to the First Amendment, the University’s policies have embraced these values. Universities can invest their efforts and resources in educating their members and in creating spaces and contexts for productive dialogue, but they cannot legitimately punish members — students, staff, and faculty — who choose not to participate in those, or who profess bigoted and other hateful views. This is especially true in open and public spaces, like Locust Walk. We can address classroom speech and behaviors that disrupt learning, but what our community members say in public spaces, including those spaces that are part of our campus, is only subject to discipline if the inflammatory speech intentionally and effectively provokes a crowd to immediately carry out violent and unlawful action. This means that if someone voices hateful views, the only appropriate response that can come from the community takes the form of disagreement, rejection, or offering alternative (or even ignoring the hateful statements, which may not deserve our attention).
Penn’s Student Code of Conduct
What does Penn’s Student Code of Conduct say?
Students are expected to exhibit responsible behavior regardless of time or place. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action by the University. Responsible behavior is a standard of conduct which reflects higher expectations than may be prevalent outside the University community. Responsible behavior includes but is not limited to the following obligations:
To refrain from conduct towards other students that infringes upon the Rights of Student Citizenship. The University condemns hate speech, epithets, and racial, ethnic, sexual and religious slurs. However, the content of student speech or expression is not by itself a basis for disciplinary action. Student speech may be subject to discipline when it violates applicable laws or University regulations or policies.
Guidelines on Open Expression
The University of Pennsylvania, as a community of scholars, affirms, supports, and cherishes the concepts of freedom of thought, inquiry, speech, and lawful assembly. Guidelines on Open Expression are detailed in the Pennbook, a collection of policies that relate to student life at the University of Pennsylvania.