Latest News and Commentary: Princeton

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

May 20, 2021
By Princeton University Reunions Event

A video recording is now available of this May 20 panel discussion at Princeton Reunions, which was moderated by Robert P. George, who holds Princeton University's McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence and is the Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, and included Flora ChampyAssistant Professor of French and Italian, Princeton University; Randall Kennedy '77Michael R. Klein Professor, Harvard Law School; and Stuart Taylor, Jr. '70, Journalist and President of Princetonians for Free Speech.



May 5, 2021
By Michael Poliakoff

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."


April 20, 2021
By Cornel West and Jeremy Tate
Washington Post

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.

April 20, 2021
By David Palomino
The Daily Princetonian

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.

April 13, 2021
By Abigail Anthony
National Review

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. 

April 11, 2021
By Christopher Kane
Princeton Tory

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. 

April 5, 2021
By Princeton Alumni Weekly staff
Princeton Alumni Weekly

Excerpt : Princeton faculty are among the organizers and leaders of the new Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), a national group of more than 200 professors that says it wants to uphold freedom of thought and speech and will provide legal support to members who need it.  Keith Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics and author of the 2018 book Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, will chair the AFA’s academic committee. 

Twenty-five Princeton faculty are listed as AFA members, including Cornel West *80, a Princeton emeritus professor. Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that members span the ideological spectrum, and liberals and progressives are just as concerned about academic freedom as their conservative peers. “They are absolutely terrified, and they know they can never keep up with the wokeness,” George told the Chronicle. “What’s OK today is over the line tomorrow, and nobody gave you the memo.”

March 29, 2021
By Jonathan Rauch

Excerpt: Stuart Taylor Jr. was never an activist. Never founded a group. Never ran a nonprofit. But recently, the journalist became so alarmed about attacks on open expression at his alma mater that he founded Princetonians for Free Speech. Joining him was another newcomer to free-speech activism, Edward Yingling, a heavy-hitting Washington lawyer and former president of the American Bankers Association. “Professors and students are getting isolated and picked off and harassed, and no one is supporting them,” Taylor said. “There’s nobody pushing back.”

The group is not much more than a website for now, but it plans to come to the public defense of Princeton students and faculty who say something unpopular and find themselves on the wrong end of a harassment campaign or an investigation. It also plans to track free-speech trends and ensure that alumni are kept abreast of developments on campus. “We hope we’re starting something that would lend itself to replication on other campuses,” Taylor said. Other new groups and journals with similar missions include The Academic Freedom Alliance, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, or FAIR, Counterweight,  The Free Speech Union, and American Purpose.