Latest News and Commentary: Princeton

October 12, 2021
By Marie-Rose Sheinerman
The Daily Princetonian

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.”

 

October 11, 2021
By Rachel Bunyan and Ariel Zilber
Daily Mail

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.

October 10, 2021
By Emma Green
The Atlantic

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.

Excerpt:

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.

October 4, 2021
By Donald Downs, Robert George, and Keith Whittington
Chronicle of Higher Education

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.

 

September 25, 2021
By Alex Zarechnak
The Princeton Tory

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. 

September 22, 2021
By Zachary Shevin and AG McGee
The Daily Princetonian

Excerpt: Princeton’s orientation programming is packed. First-years are sorted into various small group programs, participate in dozens of events, and attend several trainings designed to help them get their bearings as college students. This year featured a new addition to the traditional programming. First-years watched a recording of a virtual “roundtable” discussion which examined a gallery entitled “To Be Known and Be Heard: Systemic Racism and Princeton University.” In the recording, professors examined documents concerning racist moments in Princeton’s history.

In response, University professors John Londregan and Sergiu Klainerman penned an article in the New York Post criticizing the mandatory event, dubbing it “one-sided.” As small group orientation leaders, we watched the video ourselves. After reading Londregan and Klainerman’s article, we are confused as to whether they watched the same recording. Perhaps the larger issue is that Londregan and Klainerman construe truth-seeking differently than the rest of us.

 

September 21, 2021
By Princetonians for Free Speech

John Rose, associate director of the Arete Initiative at Duke University’s Kenan Institute for Ethics, joined us on our latest podcast to discuss his recent Wall Street Journal column about how he nurtures true civil discourse in his classroom and what he has learned from the experience. While helping to coordinate Arete’s programming, Rose teaches courses in happiness and human flourishing, Christian ethics, conservatism, and political polarization. He was interviewed by Lawrence Haas, a board member of Princetonians for Free Speech.

Rose revealed that he learned – from speaking with students privately in one-on-one settings – that many of them wanted to engage in honest debate, to explore all sides of complicated issues, but were afraid to do so. When he surveyed 110 students anonymously this spring, 68 percent of them revealed that they censor themselves on certain political topics, even with good friends. Nevertheless, Rose found a way to nurture honest debate in his classroom. After establishing rules that, among other things, allowed for the airing of differing opinions and assumed good will on all sides, he watched his students “flourish,” as he put it. They discussed such hot-button issues as critical race theory and abortion. But, as he acknowledges, whether other teachers, at Duke and on other campuses, try to follow his lead remains very much an open question.

September 20, 2021
By Dan McLaughlin
National Review

Excerpt: Sean Wilentz is a proud liberal and sometimes a hard-edged Democratic partisan. But he is also a distinguished Princeton University historian whose academic work is broadly respected across the political spectrum. That has not stopped some progressives from attacking his work for reasons more of politics than scholarship. He has recently found himself in their crosshairs for his vocal criticism — along with that of other leading liberal historians — of aspects of the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.

In a thoughtful but unsparing essay titled “The 1619 Project and Living in Truth” in the Czech historical journal Opera Historica, Wilentz has fired another salvo against the 1619 Project, its editor and lead essayist Nikole Hannah-Jones, Times Magazine editor in chief Jake Silverstein, and more broadly, the intellectual climate of “anti-racist” politics that produce warped history while intimidating serious scholars into silence. Wilentz is scathing on Hannah-Jones’s preposterous and unsupported claim, in the lead essay, that “one of the primary reasons” for the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence was American colonial fear that the British would restrict or abolish slavery.

September 20, 2021
By Kristal Grant
Daily Princetonian

Content Warning: This article contains mention of homophobic and misogynistic language.

It seems that at least once a semester, Princeton’s campus is plagued by the same conservative Christian group that has links to the Key of David Christian Center. Following last Thursday’s “demonstration,” the Pride Alliance, Princeton’s only queer advocacy student group on campus, held a reflection space. Several students (many of whom were first-years) expressed the fear, loneliness, and grief they experienced after witnessing this hate group spout homophobic and misogynistic language, including slurs and insults. 

Several students, specifically queer and femme students, were referred to as “homos,” “whores,” and “sinners.” We at the Pride Alliance are frustrated by the University's emphasis on “free expression” in responding to this demonstration, as highlighted by their explanation that “free expression facilitators” were present. This emphasis runs parallel to President Eisgruber’s notion of free speech, which he has used as an excuse not to take meaningful action in past instances of racist and bigoted speech by community members. We have learned from Eisgruber’s justifications that this “freedom of speech” which the University often champions simply functions as a disguise for the protection of hate speech.

September 20, 2021
By Dillion Gallagher
The Daily Princetonian

Excerpt: In the wake of our return to campus this semester, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Princetonian Emma Treadway directed each of us to rethink our campus culture. In light of this directive, cancel culture seems the ideal tradition to tear down. We have to recognize cancel culture for how corrosive it is and understand the constructive principles that can replace it. Then, we can commit ourselves to pursuing them, despite how difficult it might be. Those on the political left have to listen up: Stop thinking that cancelling people holds them accountable.

Cancel culture is not a substitute for accountability, mainly because it doesn’t carry any weight for those supposedly being held accountable. The reputations we build with and among our peers, friends, and colleagues are our first real contribution to Princeton. If someone’s cancellation is successful, it rids them of that contribution and, therefore, any real stake in our community.