“No right was deemed by the fathers of the Government more sacred than the right of speech. . . the great moral renovator of society and government. . . . Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thought and… more
Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of democracy and essential to learning. Yet surveys show that many university students not only do not understand the significance of free speech, they actually oppose it. Academic freedom is fundamental to the concept of a university. Today, both freedoms are under attack at universities across the country, often by active, well-organized groups of faculty and students. Princeton is no exception. Continue reading>>
If you are a member of the Princeton community who is concerned about free speech and academic freedom, we urge you to subscribe to updates today by clicking on this link. Others are also invited to subscribe. Subscriptions are free. Subscribers receive email updates when new material is posted, when we schedule events, and when there are important developments regarding free speech at Princeton. Subscribe now
Excerpt: Cornell University is, at the moment, ground zero in this ideological battle.
Official working groups at Cornell recently proffered proposals to address such issues as settler colonialism, white privilege, structural racism, injustice and bias. Their "Educational Requirement for Antiracist, Just, and Equitable Futures" is aggressive and expansive.
A strident movement of Cornell faculty, graduate students and staff declared that Cornell "remains a site of entrenched racial disparities" that must change, because it is "complicit, in countless ways, in the reproduction of white supremacy." The group calls on the school to "embed decolonized readings in every possible course at Cornell" and to "abolish colorblind recruitment policies and practices...and replace them with intentionally anti-racist policies and practices." It adds a gratuitous bit of anti-Zionism to "set benchmarks" for addressing Cornell's "institutional partnership with Technion Israeli Institute of Technology."
Excerpt: Upon learning to read while enslaved, Frederick Douglass began his great journey of emancipation, as such journeys always begin, in the mind. Defying unjust laws, he read in secret, empowered by the wisdom of contemporaries and classics alike to think as a free man. Douglass risked mockery, abuse, beating and even death to study the likes of Socrates, Cato and Cicero.
Long after that, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be similarly galvanized by his reading in the classics as a young seminarian. Yet today, one of America’s greatest Black institutions, Howard University, is diminishing the light of wisdom and truth that inspired Douglass, King and countless other freedom fighters. Academia’s continual campaign to disregard or neglect the classics is a sign of spiritual decay, moral decline and a deep intellectual narrowness running amok in American culture.
Cornel West is a professor of public philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton. Jeremy Tate is the founder and CEO of the Classic Learning Test.
Excerpt: In the summer of 2018, incoming first-years encountered Princeton Professor Keith Whittingon’s book “Speak Freely” as the Princeton Pre-Read. For his introduction, Whittington expressed the hope that universities are “First Amendment institutions'' because they are “where ideas begin.” Universities are “bastions'' of “critical dialogue.”
On April 9, President Biden appointed Whittington to his 36-member Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States. In the spirit of dialogue which Whittington himself espouses, we might hope for Whittington to engage in a meaningful exchange of views with Princeton’s student body concerning the future of the Supreme Court and of the United States.
Formed to analyze the merits of Supreme Court reform, the commission has the potential to inform groundbreaking transformations of one of our nation’s most powerful institutions. With the commission’s report “set to be finished in October,” Princeton students here and now have a unique window to interface with this project through Professor Whittington. To capitalize on this opportunity, students can do precisely what Whittington has long advocated: speak freely.
Excerpt: Princeton University, where I am currently an undergraduate student, clearly has different standards for political protests and religious services. Princeton recently permitted a large anti-racism vigil that violated Social Contract guidelines, but upheld the restrictions for the Catholic organization’s Easter Vigil and Mass. On March 27, several hundred Princeton University students and community members gathered for a “Stop Asian Hate rally and vigil” to condemn anti-Asian racism and to mourn victims of the recent Atlanta shooting. A Princeton University student publication reported that “protesters, who were instructed to be socially distant by organizers, appeared spread out,” although the photographs clearly demonstrate otherwise.
The event violated the university’s Social Contract, which explicitly requires signatories to “not host or attend any in-person gatherings on campus with more than five people indoors or ten people outdoors unless sponsored by the university or otherwise indicated by official, visibly displayed COVID-19 room occupancy limits.” Princeton officials attended the vigil.
Summary: Student members of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society (known as Whig-Clio) received an email on April 9 announcing that the Whig-Clio Board of Trustees had rejected the March 4 recommendation by the student members to revoke the James Madison Award that Senator Ted Cruz had received in 2016. The students had voted to revoke the award -- the highest honor Whig-Clio bestows upon public servants -- because of Cruz’s alleged role in inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6.
Whig-Clio has faced recurring accusations of anti-conservative bias. In 2018, Amy Wax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was disinvited to speak less than 20 hours before her free speech-themed event was scheduled. This January, Tory Publisher and former Cliosophic Party Chair Adam Hoffman ’23, accused Whig-Clio of deliberately stifling conservative voices by preventing prominent figures, such as former University trustee George Will ’68 GS and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neomi Rao, from speaking.
Excerpt: In Idaho, members of the legislature have been trying for over a year to prevent public universities from using state funding to support “social justice”-related activities, organizations, and events on campus. They have advanced budgets that have cut funding and have threatened further cuts. This led Boise State University to suddenly cancel 52 diversity-related classes in March of this year.
The message to colleges—and to individual professors—is clear: teach disfavored topics or viewpoints, and risk losing state funding.
House Concurrent Resolution 12, introduced in March, plainly states that “the Legislature should reduce funding to public universities commensurate with the spending on any social justice courses, programs, services, and trainings.” While the resolution is non-binding, its ideological thrust is unmistakable, declaring that “social justice education does not serve the common good.”
Excerpt: The faculty union at Cypress College has taken the administration to task for not defending the adjunct professor who repeatedly interrupted a student in an online speech class as he tried to argue that many police officers could be seen as heroes.
“The failure to issue a clear and strong statement of support for faculty under the existing circumstances is a failure to be anti-racist,” said the May 3 letter, signed by Christie Diep, president of United Faculty of the North Orange County Community College District, and Mohammad M. Abdel Haq, its lead negotiator.
The adjunct professor who has not been identified out of concerns for her safety, has taken a leave of absence for the remainder of her assignment.
Excerpt: The AFA is an ideologically diverse group of over 200 academics dedicated to the defense of professorial free speech and academic freedom at American universities. We provide solidarity and legal resources in cases in which an academic has been threatened with sanctions for their speech that is protected by constitutional, statutory, or contractual rights.
In the past few days, we have achieved victories in two early cases. At the University of Rhode Island, campus administrators have finally admitted that AFA founding member Professor Donna Hughes's personal political writings are protected speech and cannot be the basis for sanctions by her public university employer. At the University of San Diego, the provost has issued a public statement ending the unnecessary investigation of Professor Tom Smith's personal blog post. Neither case should have proceeded as far as it did.
Summary: Two bills in New Hampshire’s legislature have recently come under fire from a variety of educators and other groups within the state, including Dartmouth University. House Bill 2, the state’s annual must-pass budget bill, would forbid local government, state-funded schools and universities, and associated contractors, from teaching employees or students about “divisive concepts.” House Bill 111 would repeal “official immunity” liability protections for state public officials acting in good faith. Both measures have been criticized on the grounds that they will unduly restrict what concepts can be taught in schools and could open up teachers and other officials to spurious lawsuits simply for doing their jobs.
Excerpt: From Provost Gail F. Baker:
We recently received complaints relating to a post by USD Law Professor Tom Smith on his personal blog concerning the causes of COVID-19. The complaints alleged violations of various university and School of Law policies.
As a threshold matter, we sought to determine whether the blog post at issue was protected by our policy on academic freedom. After a thorough legal review, it was determined that the expression was protected by that policy.
This conclusion in no way amounts to an endorsement by the university of the opinions shared in the blog post.
Academic freedom lies at the core of the mission of the University of San Diego. At the same time, we are committed to providing an educational environment that honors the dignity of every individual. Those two commitments can and must co-exist. It is important that members of the university community exercise their freedom in a responsible fashion, attentive to the impact of their protected opinions and sensitive to all members of the community, especially those who may feel vulnerable, marginalized or fearful that they are not welcomed. Members of the university community may feel an obligation, and certainly have the freedom to criticize opinions that they believe demean the dignity of others.
I would have much liked to see a stronger defense of academic freedom. Still, the result is correct.