(New York, NY) – More than 155 writers, academics, and free speech advocates have signed a letter from PEN America urging Babson College to immediately reinstate Asheen Phansey. Babson officials suspended and then terminated Phansey over two weeks ago for a satirical Facebook post. The letter says Phansey, who was an adjunct professor and administrator at Babson, was fired over protected speech, and that the incident is deeply disturbing.

“Against a national backdrop in which punishments for speech are chilling open discourse, this draconian outcome risks compounding the constrictions on our public discourse,” the letter reads. “As an institution of higher learning, Babson should be on the side of defending free thought rather than punishing it.” Those signing the letter include Judith Butler, Joyce Carol Oates, J. M. Coetzee, Teju Cole, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Haidt, Steven Pinker, Molly Ringwald, Howard Rodman, Salman Rushdie, Andrew Solomon, Geoffrey R. Stone, and Nadine Strossen, among others.

The letter says Babson’s decision defied reason, as Phansey’s post was clearly a satirical commentary on foreign policy, with no hint of harassment, incitement to imminent violence, or any other unprotected category of speech. His post came as a reaction to President Trump’s threat to bomb cultural heritage sites in Iran. Phansey’s satirical post suggested Iran should make a list of 52 cultural sites in the U.S. to bomb, offering the Kardashian home and the Mall of America in Minnesota as humorous examples.

Signatories to the PEN America letter also include the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the American Federation of Teachers, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Over 80 faculty respondents hailing from 50 institutions nationwide have supported the effort.

“This is a straightforward case. Babson officials made the wrong decision,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s campus free speech project director. “That’s why such a diverse coalition has come together from across the political spectrum and across disciplines to speak out against this injustice. Babson officials should know that their misguided reaction has not gone unnoticed.”

“But Babson can also make this right – right now – by revisiting their decision,” said Friedman. “While Babson is a private university, their public commitments to academic freedom and free speech, including extramural speech, should make this case very clear cut. We cannot hope to defend against the graver threats to free expression on U.S. campuses if professors can be fired for making a joke on Facebook.”

“We call on Babson to immediately reverse course and reinstate Phansey to his positions at the college,” the PEN America letter says. “Any other outcome risks permanently tarnishing the reputation of Babson and jeopardizing the climate for speech on campuses across the country.”

PEN America has previously discussed the importance of free expression, academic freedom and open inquiry on college campuses and has identified key principles in its Campus Free Speech Guide.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892