Below is a link to a CNN interview of Keith Whittington, who chairs the Academic Freedom Alliance, by Michael Smerconish of CNN over a tenure dispute involving widespread outrage about allegedly racist comments by Penn Law Professor Amy Wax. She spoke in a podcast interview by Brown University Professor Glenn Loury, generating widespread outrage. Now Penn Law Dean Theodore Ruger has started a process that could threaten her tenure. Whittington deplores Wax’s statements as “repugnant” and “wrong as a policy matter, wrong as a moral matter,” but says that tenured professors should not be punished for expressing their political views outside the classroom.
Latest News and Commentary: Princeton
Excerpt: Responding to complaints by members of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC), University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 defended a memo sent by Dean of the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) Amaney Jamal.
The memo, addressed to members of the SPIA community, came in response to the not-guilty verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse on Nov. 19, 2021, the day of the verdict. In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Eisgruber wrote that it is sometimes incumbent upon administrators to speak up on controversial issues. The POCC letter argued that Jamal’s statement violated institutional neutrality by using “informal institutional behavior” to threaten free expression and lively discourse. The letter also argued that the principle of institutional neutrality itself restricts, or ought to restrict, University officials from speaking in their formal capacities on controversial issues.
The following letter was addressed to several University officials, including those who lead the offices which are co-sponsoring a January 19th panel on "Race, Speech, and the University."
Excerpt: First, let us convey our gratitude for organizing an impressive panel of speakers to address free speech, racial justice, and the university. Whereas figures like Nikole Hannah-Jones have been shunned elsewhere, Princeton has yet again proven itself the welcoming host of voices deemed too unorthodox for some universities to sponsor. . . .
Still, the University’s mission can only be realized if the institution is committed to the several conditions necessary for the flourishing of a truth-seeking environment. The University’s responsibility in this regard goes beyond a simple duty to refrain from “canceling” speakers. In fact, the University bears a duty to actively promote open, honest, and robust dialogue. . . .
We therefore express our disappointment at the sparsity of ideological diversity on the panel you have assembled. It is no secret that each of the panelists you are hosting hails from roughly the same, leftist school of thought on issues of speech and race.
Excerpt: I'm happy to announce the public launch of a new initiative at Princeton University. The Initiative on Freedom of Thought, Inquiry, and Expression will be under the umbrella of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. I'm grateful to JMP for hosting the initiative, and to Princeton University for giving its blessing to the project (though the initiative will rely on outside funds). I will be directing the Free Speech Initiative along with my colleague, Bernie Haykel.
We expect over time to host seminars, public lectures, conferences, and other programming to promote, explain and defend free speech and academic freedom. Hopefully we can help make a difference locally on the Princeton campus, and we intend to be a resource for students and faculty who have concerns about free speech protections at Princeton.
Excerpt: A former Iranian official who is a faculty member at Princeton University recently bragged in an interview about how his hardline government’s death threats against a former top Trump administration official had him and his family "trembling" with fear.
"I went to America and an American told me that Brian Hook’s wife can’t sleep, she cries and trembles, she told Brian, ‘They’ll kill you,’ since Hook was a partner in the death of Haj Qassem [Soleimani], that’s how much they were trembling," Mousavian said, referring to Iran’s vow to kill Hook for his role in the Trump administration’s drone strike that killed Iranian terror leader Soleimani two years ago. Mousavian’s comments were made in a documentary produced and released this month by a company tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps titled 72 hours. His Farsi language remarks were independently translated for the Washington Free Beacon.
Excerpt: For anyone who believes that America’s elite institutions of higher learning are taken far too seriously, the last two years have been bracing. Of course I am referring to Covid policy, in particular the current efforts of Princeton and Yale to restrict the off-campus movements of their students in fairly radical ways.
This week Yale sent out an email laying out requirements for returning students. There will be a campus-wide quarantine until Feb. 7, which may be extended. Furthermore, students “may not visit New Haven businesses or eat at local restaurants (even outdoors) except for curbside pickup.” Meanwhile, in Princeton, the university issued this announcement on Dec. 27: “Beginning January 8 through mid-February, all undergraduate students who have returned to campus will not be permitted to travel outside of Mercer County or Plainsboro Township for personal reasons, except in extraordinary circumstances.”
These two elite American institutions have lost their moorings. Can you imagine your school telling you not to leave the county? (Though Princeton sports teams are somehow exempted.)
Excerpt: A letter to readers from our board chair
The Princeton Alumni Weekly will remain, as its title page promises, “an editorially independent magazine by alumni for alumni.”
When I last wrote to PAW readers over the summer, the future of the magazine was in question. The University announced earlier this year that it intended for the first time to take on full responsibility for funding the magazine, which has been a University department for more than two decades. This would be a sharp change from the existing revenue model, which depends on class dues from alumni and advertising income, as well as a University subsidy. Under the new arrangement, University officials told PAW’s independent board members, Princeton would no longer guarantee the magazine’s editorial independence.
To PAW’s board members, journalists, and a remarkable number of alumni who expressed their support, this was cause for alarm. Now, I’m pleased to report that the editorial independence that built PAW’s reputation will remain in place, guaranteed by a new memo of understanding between Princeton President Chris Eisgruber ’83 and me on behalf of PAW’s board (which includes alumni who work in media as well as representatives of the Alumni Council and of the University faculty and administration.)
Excerpt: The University of Illinois at Chicago seems unable to correct course and respect the academic freedom commitments that it has made to its faculty. For a year, the university has been hounding one of its law professors, Jason Kilborn, at the behest of some of its students. The fracas started when Kilborn included a hypothetical on his civil procedure exam involving an individual telling an investigating lawyer that former co-workers "expressed their anger at Plaintiff, calling her a "n____" and "b____" (profane expressions for African Americans and women) and vowed to get rid of her." He has been suspended from teaching ever since as students demand that he be fired.
He reached an agreement with the university that would have settled the matter, but the university reneged on that agreement and the chancellor of the university weighed in demanding that the punishment must continue until morale has improved. The Academic Freedom Alliance wrote to the university in November explaining the damage that the university was doing to academic freedom protections.
As Princeton students and frequent critics of the ideological orthodoxy that pervades our campus, we’ve witnessed our peers retreat from conversations, opportunities, and even friendships out of fear that their deeply held beliefs will cost them academically, socially, and professionally. A university hinders its truth-seeking mission when it — unintentionally or otherwise — prompts students to think twice before expressing unpopular but reasonable points of view. This can occur when officials violate the basic institutional neutrality required for the university to be a home for the free marketplace of ideas. The “basic neutrality” ideal isn’t new. The most famous defense of the principle was offered by faculty at the University of Chicago during the height of the Vietnam War.
Recently, universities nationwide have begun to abandon any pretension to neutrality. Princeton has been no exception. Dean Amaney Jamal of its School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) issued a statement (under the header “Our Moral Duty”) to the entire student body of her department, decrying Kyle Rittenhouse’s not-guilty verdict. Furthermore, she situated the verdict within the context of the racism embedded “without a doubt . . . in nearly every strand of the American fabric,” thus implying that defenders of a not-guilty verdict are defenders of racism.
Abigail Anthony is a junior studying politics and linguistics at Princeton University. Myles McKnight is a junior studying politics at Princeton University and the president of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition.
Excerpt: A new episode of The Academic Freedom Podcast from the Academic Freedom Alliance is now available. Subscribe through your favorite platform so you don't miss an episode.
In this episode I talk with Hiram Chodosh about the view from a university president's office on the campus free speech situation today. Chodosh is the president of Claremont McKenna College and a former dean at the University of Utah. Claremont McKenna has been the top-ranked school two years running in FIRE's free speech rankings. Claremont must be doing something right, and I wanted to talk with President Chodosh about what that might be. An interesting conversation about what he sees as the challenges confronting universities today when it comes to free speech and academic freedom and how he has tried to steer Claremont in the right direction.