In his recent opinion piece, in the wake of years of discourse on the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, Akhil Rajasekar ’21 paints a picture of what he, on behalf of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC), believes to be the state of free speech on campus. He assures us, however, that with the aid of POCC’s efforts we can achieve what he says we need: a “thoughtful conversation on significant, deeply personal issues like race, identity, and culture.” Unfortunately, Rajasekar both misunderstands the nature of free speech and seeks to marginalize the voices of those who have, through years of effort, carried the campus discourse on race and Wilson’s legacy to its current juncture.
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At my alma mater, Princeton University, hundreds of faculty, staff, and graduate students have signed a petition demanding the university “take immediate concrete and material steps to openly and publicly acknowledge the way that anti-Black racism, and racism of any stripe, continue to thrive on its campus.” The petition includes a long list of “demands,” several of which stand in direct opposition to Princeton students’ and faculty members’ rights to free speech, academic freedom, and freedom of conscience. (Notably, one of them — a demand that faculty of color receive extra pay and sabbatical time compared to white faculty — is simply illegal.) Princeton’s leadership should categorically reject these illiberal demands.
[A] group of signatories now in the hundreds published a “Faculty Letter” to the president and other senior administrators at Princeton University. This letter begins with the following blunt sentence: “Anti-Blackness is foundational to America.” [Plenty] of ideas in the letter are ones I support. But then there are dozens of proposals that, if implemented, would lead to civil war on campus and erode even further public confidence in how elite institutions of higher education operate. [These included a demand for an apology to the Black Justice League.] The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands.
In an opinion piece published in The Daily Princetonian yesterday, Juan José López Haddad attacked the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC) and its recent efforts to defend academic freedom. As a member of this coalition, I welcome the opportunity to litigate our important work. Haddad appears to be of the opinion that our letter to President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, which I authored, was motivated by a bad-faith disregard for our “non-white” peers and a desire to revel in our racist bigotry. As the first and only American citizen in my family and a person of color who had never known, or even conversed with, a white person until the age of 16, I will admit to being quite amazed at learning of my disregard for non-white experiences and my ignorance of racism. But, happily, my interest in identity politics never wanders farther than permitting me to relish delicious ironies.
A number of prominent University faculty members and alumni were among the 153 artists, writers, and scholars who signed an open letter “on justice and open debate,” published in Harper’s Magazine on Tuesday, July 7. The letter, which warned of an “intolerant climate” permeating left-wing political discourse, sparked intense debate over the state of free speech in politically progressive circles and made headlines with household-name signatories such as J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem, and Margaret Atwood. Among the undersigned were University history professors Sean Wilentz, Matthew Karp, Nell Irvin Painter, and Anthony Grafton; politics professors Paul Starr and Andrew Moravcsik; and former Dean of the School of Public and International Affairs Anne-Marie Slaughter. Michael Walzer, the renowned political theorist who formerly taught at the Institute for Advanced Studies, also signed.
In a recently circulated piece, a group of around twenty students warned the University against implementing anti-racist training and curricular reform. All of these claims are made under the purported grounds that it would limit free speech and academic freedom. I deeply disagree with this rationale. [The plea of the] “Princeton Open Campus Coalition to President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 to disregard the demands of student activists can only be deemed terribly disappointing and outrageous. The piece’s core arguments are the product of an ignorance that is deliberate, unapologetic, and weaponized — it is nothing but another attempt to protect deliberate, selective ignorance under the guise of academic freedom and free speech. Preventing widespread education on these topics is not an enlightened measure — rather, it casts a profoundly obscuring shadow over truths this country desperately needs to acknowledge.
Anti-Blackness is foundational to America. It plays a role in where we live and where we are welcome. It influences the level of healthcare we receive. . . . It informs the expectations and tactics of law-enforcement. And it plays a powerful role at institutions like Princeton, . . . We urge you to acknowledge and give priority to the following demands: . . . [Also,] Constitute a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures.
Twenty-two students have re-established the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC), a group first founded in opposition to the Black Justice League (BJL) in 2015. In its latest iteration, the POCC advocates against unconscious bias training for faculty and objects to curriculum changes that would require students to learn about race and identity. In Nov. 2015, the BJL occupied the Nassau Hall office of President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83, demanding that the University institute a “diversity distribution requirement” for all students, “compulsory competency training for faculty and staff,” and a rethinking of the legacy of Woodrow Wilson on campus. Six days later, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC) formed in opposition of the BJL’s demands and “methods,” condemning the sit-in at Eisgruber’s office as an “invasion.” In an open letter sent to Eisgruber this week, 22 signatories declared their opposition to recent demands submitted by the “Change WWS Now” campaign, which a majority of SPIA concentrators signed.
We the undersigned undergraduate students of Princeton University write on behalf of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, founded in 2015 to advocate for the university’s robust protection of important values such as free speech, free thought, and bold and fearless truth-seeking. On June 22, 2020, some students of the School of Public and International Affairs (“School”) submitted a list of demands to the University administration, seeking the enactment of certain “anti-racist” policies. Among their demands is the institution of required courses in line with their professed beliefs on “race, capitalism, and colonialism.” They further demand that the University, acting through the School, hire more Black faculty, require “anti-racist training once per semester for all faculty, staff, preceptors, and administrators,” purge the University of any reference to Woodrow Wilson, and divest from what they term the “prison-industrial complex.” The vast majority of claims and demands made by these students amounts to a concerted siege of free thought at Princeton.
The ongoing histories of police brutality and systemic violence against Black communities have ignited recent protests nationwide and around the world to demand justice for the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Oluwatoyin Salau, and many, many others. Institutions of power in this country have condoned the deaths of far too many people for far too long, at the hands of systemic violence and inaction. We demand that the School work with students to create anti-racist training at least once per semester for all faculty (including tenured professors), staff, preceptors, and administrators.