Latest News and Commentary: Princeton

July 19, 2021
By Princetonians for Free Speech Editorial

Excerpt: In the July edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, known to alumni as PAW, the Chair of PAW’s Board, Marc Fisher, discusses in a letter to readers the efforts of Princeton to bring PAW under greater control of the University.  While there may be legitimate reasons for some of the changes proposed by the University, it is very disturbing that the University at this point has not agreed to guarantee the continuing editorial independence of PAW.

As we stated in a letter published in PAW’s “In Box,” we believe all alumni should support Mr. Fisher’s efforts to maintain independent editorial control.

July 13, 2021
By academicfreedom.org

Excerpt: Today, the Academic Freedom Alliance released the following statement in support of the rights of Air Force Academy professor Lynne Chandler Garcia, who has come under fire for teaching critical race theory and subsequently defending herself in a Washington Post op-ed. Leading members of Congress have called for Professor Garcia’s termination. This is the third case in which the AFA has intervened with a public statement, following the successful conclusion of free speech cases at the University of San Diego and the University of Rhode Island in May.

“Principles of academic freedom and free speech include the right of professors to publish op-eds on matters of public concern without the threat of sanctions by their university employer. Unfortunately, members of Congress are not respecting those basic principles, and we call upon the United States Air Force Academy to hold firm to its stated principles."

July 8, 2021
By Abigail Anthony, rising junior at Princeton University
USA Today

Excerpt: Every right I have today results from movements once deemed “offensive.”

The idea that I, a 21-year-old woman, am not solely dedicated to housework would astonish the founders of Princeton University, where I am a student. It was less than 60 years ago that Princeton began admitting female students, but now women compose 50% of its undergraduate population. Women were largely excluded from American politics until only a century ago, but today I am a student in the Department of Politics. American society has progressed so greatly since its founding that now I can marry another woman, or a woman who has undergone gender reassignment surgeries.

The gauge of “offensive” evolves so drastically and rapidly that we cannot employ it as a reliable measure for appropriate conduct. We exercise many rights today – including the right to free expression – because unorthodox ideas were eventually recognized by society as acceptable. This does not immediately warrant all offensive propositions as valid, but proves it is prudent to consider such ideas.   Yet, many of my peers – and some of my professors – desire to restrict free speech. In the spirit of considering controversial opinions, I will afford them the courtesy of entertaining their proposition, although they rarely extend such grace to conservative perspectives.

July 1, 2021
By Marc Fisher
Princeton Alumni Weekly, July 2021 Issue

Excerpt: Since 1900, the Princeton Alumni Weekly has been, as its title page states, a “magazine by alumni for alumni.” What exactly that motto means is now the subject of discussions between the University administration and the magazine’s independent board. As the board’s chair, I want you to know that the future and character of your alumni magazine are at stake, and I invite you to make your voices heard.

This spring, University administrators informed PAW’s board that Princeton intends to change its relationship with the magazine to secure PAW’s financial health, to assure that PAW operates under the same rules as other University departments, and to protect against the magazine creating legal liability for the University. Princeton proposes to take on the entire cost of producing and distributing PAW. At the same time, Princeton has not guaranteed the continued editorial independence of the magazine.

June 30, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington, Princeton Professor of Politics
The Washington Post

Excerpt: Bills aimed at directing how race is taught in public schools and colleges are sweeping through Republican statehouses across the country. The proposals seem to be getting worse, not better. A bill recently introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature goes further than many others in trying to ban so much as the discussion of any “racist or sexist concept” in public elementary schools, high schools and colleges.

Let us set aside the unhelpful debate over whether what is at issue is something called “critical race theory.” Proponents and opponents of these bills have often talked past one another by shifting the boundaries of what belongs under the label. I have no doubt that there are many pernicious ideas and modes of teaching abroad in the land. Nonetheless, bills like the one proposed in Pennsylvania are the wrong tools for the job.

June 16, 2021
By Keith Whittington, Princeton Professor of Politics
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: I have little doubt that there are many pernicious ideas and practices currently being peddled in workplaces and schools across the country under the broad rubric of diversity, equity and inclusion. Inside Higher Ed has a report just today about an example of "diversity training" at Stanford University that might well run afoul of existing civil rights laws. Organizations that subject their members to such toxic requirements deserve all the litigation and bad publicity that they have coming to them.

Unsurprisingly, when voters are annoyed by such bad behavior, someone starts to think that there ought to be a law and politicians see an opportunity. In this context, that has resulted in a lot of ham-handed legislative proposals, some of which have already found their way into law. We are not having a very well informed or intelligent debate about that now, but a debate there will be.

 

June 8, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason

Excerpt: I am pleased to note that the Academic Freedom Alliance has launched a new podcast, The Academic Freedom Podcast. New episodes should drop every month or so and explore issues relating to academic freedom and campus free speech.

The first episode is now available, and it consists of the audio recording of the webinar panel that the AFA recently hosted on the landmark 6th circuit case on First Amendment protections for academic freedom and classroom speech by professors. The case is Meriwether v. Hartop. For that conversation, I was joined by Jeannie Suk Gersen, Steve Sanders, and Volokh Conspiracy co-blogger Jonathan Adler. I hope you will subscribe so that you will not miss future episodes that will include a mix of thematic panel discussions and guest interviews.

 

June 7, 2021
By John McWhorter
The Atlantic

Excerpt: The classics department at Princeton University recently decided that the idea that classics majors ought to know Latin or Greek has been a mistake. Old-fashioned, perhaps. Until now, undergrads who wanted to major in the study of classical texts needed to come into the concentration with at least an intermediate level of Latin or Greek. But those students will no longer even have to learn either language to receive a degree in classics. This is a typical example of a university rushing to make policy changes under the guise of promoting racial equity that are as likely to promote racism as to uproot it.

The department had considered the policy change before, the Princeton Alumni Weekly reported, but saw it as taking on a “new urgency” by the “events around race that occurred last summer.”

 

May 26, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: The question is not whether Nikole Hannah-Jones should have been offered a tenured position in the journalism school at a university. My Princeton colleague, Sean Wilentz, is a man of the left and a historian of American politics and he has been among those who have raised red flags about the quality of "The 1619 Project" that won Hannah-Jones a Pulitzer Prize. There are plenty of good reasons why a member of the faculty might vote against extending such an offer.

The question is who ought to decide whether particular individuals should be hired for available faculty positions. The board at UNC has apparently taken the view that it should not rubber stamp such offers but should feel free to override the determination of the faculty and administration on individual personnel decisions. Nothing good can come of this.

May 24, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington and Sean Wilentz
Chronicle of Higher Education

Summary: Today’s rampant political polarization has led to alarming interference in academic affairs and threatens the foundations of teaching and scholarship, especially in areas of civics and American history. Most recently, the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees has apparently balked at the faculty’s recommendation that Nikole Hannah-Jones be appointed with tenure to the Knight chair in race and investigative journalism. She will instead hold the chair for a five-year term.

It seems that political considerations drove the board to take the extraordinary step of intervening in the university’s hiring decision – which would be a clear threat to academic freedom. There are, no doubt, reasons to object to awarding a tenured position to Hannah-Jones. Her work on “The 1619 Project” is controversial. So is her choice to sometimes dismiss and demean her critics instead of engaging with their arguments on the merits.


But political intervention in matters of faculty hiring will do lasting damage to higher education in North Carolina — and will embolden boards across the country similarly to interfere with academic operations of the universities that they oversee.

Whittington is a professor of politics at Princeton University and chairman of the Academic Freedom Alliance; Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton