“We read of tortures in jails with electric devices, suicides among prisoners, forced confessions, while in the outside community ruthless persecution of editors, religious leaders, and political opponents suppress free speech—and a… more
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Two recent developments show free speech is in serious trouble at Princeton. This week, the “2021 College Free Speech Ranking,” published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), placed Princeton dead last in the Ivy League on free speech and a dismal 134 out of 159 colleges and universities ranked. The FIRE press release and link to the ranking can be accessed here. This follows the controversial Princeton orientation for the class of 2025, which contained an official presentation that denigrated free speech.
The FIRE ranking was based on surveys of students, plus an analysis of schools’ written policies on speech on which Princeton received a negative “red light” rating. The survey results show that the great majority of the schools rated have serious problems on free speech, and yet Princeton is near the bottom of this barrel of rotting apples. For example, in the survey, only 34 percent of the students from all schools thought it was never acceptable to shout down a speaker on campus. So, 66 percent thought it at least sometimes right to shout down speakers. Over 80 percent of the students said they self-censor in the classroom, on campus, and online. The answers to other questions show most students at almost all schools have a total lack of understanding of what free speech means.
A ranking, based on a survey of students, released today by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), put Princeton dead last in the Ivy League and a dismal 134 out of 159 colleges and universities surveyed. Princeton has also fallen in the ranking, as last year it was fourth in the Ivy League. A FIRE press release with a link to the report, “2021 College Free Speech Ranking,” can be accessed here.
Excerpt: A lawsuit filed by classics professor Joshua Katz that alleged “viewpoint discrimination” against him by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) was dismissed in court on Oct. 5. The judge found that the suit failed to meet the requisite standards for jurisdiction in federal court in New Jersey, but did not rule on the merits of Katz’s claims. The decision leaves the door open for Katz to refile his suit against the ACLS in New York, where the society is based.
Katz alleged that after the society invited him to serve as a volunteer delegate to the Union Académique Internationale, an academic conference in Paris, it revoked the invite “solely because he expressed views that, although fully reasonable and protected by ordinary principles of academic freedom, offend the ideological sensibilities of some in academia.”
Excerpt: Thousands of people have registered for a remote lecture by a geophysicist at Princeton University after the MIT canceled it due to pressure from “woke” students because the professor argued that academic evaluations should be based on merit, not racial “equity.”
University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot was denied the opportunity to give the prestigious Carlson Lecture, which is devoted to “new results in climate science” and hosted by MIT's Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. But Princeton University decided to host Abbot's lecture via Zoom on October 21 - the day it was scheduled to be given at the MIT. Princeton professor Robert P. George, who has publicly backed Abbot since his lecture was “shockingly and shamefully canceled,” said the university has since had to expand the Zoom quota for the lecture as thousands of people have registered.
Editor’s note: The below Eisgruber interview occurs at a time of great controversy about the unremitting attacks on free speech in Princeton’s official freshman orientation and the University’s dismal free speech ranking by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education last month.
Emma Green: You have carved out a position on academic speech and freedom that is a little countercultural. In a recent speech at Penn, you brought up a Princeton professor who, during a class, used a racial slur. There are many people who believe that those kinds of words should never be permitted in an academic context. Why is it worth it to defend the use of these kinds of words?
Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber: I care passionately about the position you just described. Right now, everybody insists on dividing free speech and inclusivity from one another. They insist on a version of the free-speech ideal that is just about unconstrained expression. But we are not here just to have unfettered expression. We are a part of a truth-seeking enterprise. We try to make a difference in the world by, among other things, distinguishing better and worse arguments.
Green: You’ve also talked about your concern about the shrinking space for conservative ideas on campus. Robert George is an example of someone you’ve praised publicly, who has deeply held, well-considered viewpoints that I think would be hard for some students to countenance—his stance on LGBTQ and transgender identity chief among them. I wonder why you think it’s worth it to have a professor like him on campus.
Eisgruber: It is clearly worth it.
Excerpt: Many professors have no idea what to do when a mob is howling for their heads. They have never been through such an ordeal before, and are naturally frightened and rattled. Fortunately, many American colleges and universities have policies in place to protect the academic freedom of research scholars and instructional faculty members. Moreover, some professors have the benefit of tenure protections that can hamper administrative attempts to summarily dismiss them, if only to placate the mob. But those protections are not enough if academics do not know how to make use of them.
We offer the following advice as members of the newly formed Academic Freedom Alliance, made up of more than 400 faculty members who span the nation and the ideological spectrum. The group exists to provide moral, strategic, and legal assistance to faculty members whose academic freedom and/or job status have been harmed or jeopardized improperly for something they have said or written.
Excerpt: Dear Class of ’25:
Did you appreciate the clever way you were introduced to Princeton? Did you recognize that your orientation video was a non-advertised test, disguised as a woke clarion call to social justice activism at Princeton? Did you catch the subtle challenge to abandon critical thinking and instead embrace the camaraderie of bashing a distinguished Classics professor? Were you able to get past the faux-indoctrination and manipulation and realize that Princeton was actually trying to teach an important lesson, namely that even incoming fresh-persons have the responsibility to think for themselves and to distinguish the trendy from the true? Princeton realizes that this is a skill that will be critical for you to hone and develop and unleash on those trying to put blinders on you, not only at Princeton, but well beyond graduation.
Excerpt: We are approaching what should be the six-year anniversary of the founding of Students for Justice in Palestine at Fordham University. But rather than celebrating, students at Fordham are conducting a letter-writing campaign in the latest effort to get the student group reinstated after last year’s disappointing court ruling that allowed the university to violate its own promises and policies regarding free speech and once again deny SJP recognition based on its viewpoint, which administrators claimed would lead to “polarization” on campus.
A quick recap: On Nov. 19, 2015, students submitted an application to form a chapter of SJP at Fordham. Almost exactly one year later on Nov. 17, 2016, the application was approved by the student government. However, that decision was overturned by a Fordham dean, in direct contravention of the school’s policies and promises. FIRE urges Fordham, for once and for all, to end this campaign of censorship.
Excerpt: Reports of escalating hostility and threats of violence at school board meetings across the nation — stemming from fights over masking policies and school curriculums — have recently made headlines. I thought of those parents after the National School Boards Association addressed a letter to President Biden requesting assistance from federal law enforcement in investigating threats, and after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the FBI would coordinate with local leaders and law enforcement to address a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff.”
A word of caution to those who would blithely cast angry parents as a threat, or the act of disrupting open public meetings as domestic terrorism. In the vast territory of civic anger and frustration lies the opportunity for growth and enlightenment, and better decision-making among public servants willing to listen.
Excerpt: In a direct challenge to the hallowed tradition of tenure, Georgia’s public university system will now let its colleges’ administrations remove a tenured professor with little to no faculty input. The Board of Regents on Wednesday approved the new policy, which is the only one of its kind in the country, according to the American Association of University Professors.
“Georgia is a huge outlier now, because that’s the whole point of tenure: it includes due process protections,” said Irene Mulvey, president of the professors’ association, which is threatening to censure the university system. “There should now be a new word for it in Georgia, because tenure will not mean tenure there.” Previously, the process for removing tenured professors included a peer review process with other faculty. Now, professors at 25 of its 26 public universities can be removed after consecutively failing two annual reviews.
Excerpt: The Wisconsin Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges held a hearing regarding Critical Race Theory’s role in higher education Wednesday, March 22. Republicans control the committee, but experts on both sides of the debate were invited to speak at the hearing.
The hearing is part of a GOP push to pass Senate Bill 411 regarding anti-racism and anti-sexism pupil instruction and training for employees of school districts and independent charter schools. The bill would ban seven concepts in curriculums, ranging from “One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” to “An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex,” according to the Wisconsin State Legislature. Schools that don’t follow the guidelines in the proposed bill face a 10% annual cut from state funding.
Excerpt: If you participate in contemporary political discourse, you’re bound to come across one of the most widespread and controversial phrases of the day: “cancel culture.” Part of its popularity stems from its apparent versatility. That is, people can use the term for just about anything that particularly upsets them. The inevitable consequence of using a term for everything is that it ends up meaning nothing.
Cancel culture individualizes a much larger, systemic issue. The act of “canceling” is generally something that is undertaken against an individual person, while a suppressive academic culture is something different. If scholars fear that they will be targeted for publicly pursuing an idea, either through policy or through social sanction, most won’t speak up and get “canceled.” Rather, social coercion will make them either stop pursuing controversial topics or take their work underground, resulting in a loss of knowledge for society.