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Knowledge Under Fire: Penn Faculty Senate Responds With ‘Teach-In’ Series of Free Public Forums and Events

Penn Nursing’s Therese Richmond, PhD, and Terri Lipman, PhD, will both be part of this unique, week-long event. Richmond will be featured as part of “Firearm Violence: Science, Policy & Politics” on Monday, March 19. Lipman will participate in the panel discussion “Developing a Culture of Health” on Wednesday, March 21. The event concludes with a March 22 discussion on the future of education featuring Penn Nursing’s Dean Antonia Villarruel, PhD, and Jennifer Pinto –Martin, PhD.

At a time when journalism is being battered over claims of “fake news,” the growing disregard and politicization of facts, data, research, and science also threatens the fundamental principles of colleges and universities. As these values are being challenged and called into question, how can educators in the United States protect democratic ideals and the right to teach students and the community at large to differentiate between facts and opinion, and engage in productive discourse around contentious issues? To advance answers to these questions, the Faculty Senate at the University of Pennsylvania is hosting a “Teach-In,” offering a wide-ranging series of educational programs with dozens of free, public events March 18 through March 22.

The “University of Pennsylvania Teach-In on the Use, Production, and Dissemination of Knowledge,” draws on the teach-in movement of the 1960s, which popularized the idea of colleges and universities holding public forums on subjects of public interest, encouraging civic engagement, and participation as a tool for social justice. In this spirit, through a series of open forums, film screenings, exhibitions, and interactive activities, the Teach-In welcomes Penn faculty, students, staff and members of the greater community to engage in discussions on complex issues such as firearm violence, vaccine denial, race, evolution, bioethics, immigration, and more. The last such Teach-In event at Penn was held in March 4, 1969.

A free day of events at the Penn Museum kicks off the five-day Teach-In on Sunday, March 18, 1 to 4 p.m. With free Museum admission and programming around the theme, “How Do We Know What We Know?”, guests of all ages are invited to explore answers via hands-on science and archaeology activities, pop up gallery talks by curators, and a scavenger hunt. 

On Monday, March 19, the Teach-In continues with a full day of events including an open forum on firearm violence; a look at vaccine denial; a roundtable exploring teaching race; and an exhibition, Monument Lab: Civic Studio on Public Space. In addition, the Teach-In opening ceremony to be held on Monday evening from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Law School’s Golkin Hall, features a panel discussion examining the difficulties of knowledge creation in the 21st century, the challenges of communicating it in an era of social media and fake news, and the immediate impact it can have on society moderated by WHYY’s Tracey Matisak. A reception will follow.

Activities and events on Tuesday include a daylong workshop empowering the future women leaders in design; panels on artificial intelligence and society and connecting engineering and human health; a “donut crawl” along Locust Walk exploring evolution in a walk through time (with robot companions); an augmented reality scavenger hunt; a café talk on encouraging women to run for public office; and a screening of “The Bride of Frankenstein,” part of the three-day Bioethics Film Festival.

Day four includes a TED-style talk exploring the alternative reality of computer graphics today; a Data Refuge story gathering event, where visitors and passers-by can engage in games and story-telling activities around the use of public, federal climate, and environmental data; panels on the science, history, and the meaning of evolution and on evidence-based approaches to health and wellness; a lecture on behavioral economics and decision making; a town hall on immigration; a roundtable on the present and future of the carbon economy, and a screening of the film “Young Frankenstein.”

Day five offers screenings of “American Creed” and “Blade Runner,” along with topics and workshops looking at teaching and education, and creating conditions for conversation across contentious issues. There will also be a Teach-In finale event and a closing reception.

The Teach-In, a broad, collective enterprise, involving faculty, students and staff across Penn’s schools and centers, is the first on this scale at Penn in half-a-century.  

All events are free and open to the public; for a full schedule of events visit Several of the events will be live-streamed or videotaped and archived on the Teach-In website.