Princeton prides itself on providing students exposure to a multitude of diverse views. Unfortunately, without intentional practice, aspirations remain but a dream. Many students feel their voices are stifled at this highly acclaimed institution. In one case, a friend of mine was unwilling to perform political research because she was afraid that the results may offend. She reported facing open disregard and even active harassment for her views. [G]iven the current administrative trajectory, students may face the fear of cancelation for years to come. Do we continue to cower, discussing our views only in echo chambers, silently waiting for social revolution? By no means! The Princeton that we desire, that we have worked so hard to attend, that we wish to stamp with our legacy upon can only exist if our voice fills the void.
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After months of painful silence, Daniel, a current Princeton student, finally confessed the truth to a friend: he planned to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. His friend instantly recoiled. “I remember seeing fear, and discomfort, and anger, and most of all confusion,” Daniel remembered later. Desperate to salvage the situation, he asked, “Can we just agree to disagree?” His friend’s reply was immediate. “I’m sorry,” they said, “but it’s just not possible.” Four years later, Daniel’s question lingers like a fog over the turbulent, hyper-partisan landscape of 2020 America: can we, in fact, agree to disagree? [I]f there’s one area of agreement amongst conservative and moderate students, it’s that Princeton’s faculty are some of the most intentional and effective proponents of free speech on campus. But socially, as another senior put it, “it’s game over.”
The long fight to end slavery in America crucially depended on the availability of freedom of thought and helped move the boundaries of what the realization of freedom of thought was understood to require. As a movement of a distinct minority of radical activists, antislavery activists needed to make their case in public and find ways to convert the broad swath of the citizenry to their cause. They needed a right to free speech in order to build a movement and bring an end to slavery.
Excerpt: This has been a summer of manifestos. Amid protests and demonstrations across the country, numerous public statements have been issued, both within the Princeton community and outside of it. Many have called for structural changes to fight racism. Others have raised concerns about perceived efforts to silence or “cancel” those who depart from orthodoxy on controversial questions. Collectively, these letters and statements raise fundamental questions concerning social justice and free inquiry that get at the heart of any university’s mission. PAW invited three members of the Princeton community, each with a different background, discipline, and perspective, to discuss these questions on July 24. Their conversation, which was conducted on Zoom, was moderated by PAW’s senior writer, Mark F. Bernstein ’83.
College campuses find themselves in a battle over the scope of free inquiry and debate. Its resolution is far from clear, but its implications will likely extend far beyond the ivory tower. The stakes are high. If universities turn against intellectual freedom, we will not only lose much of the good that universities can contribute to American society and to the world more broadly; we will also strengthen the forces working to weaken protections for free speech under the First Amendment.
Princeton is on the front lines.
Excerpt: A recent open letter by the Princeton University faculty has provoked concerns, yet again, that institutions may be encroaching against freedom of thought and expression in their efforts to protect those who are marginalized by racism. A lot of attention has already been paid to the letter’s demand that Princeton’s administration “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,” but there are a few other demands that also merit further discussion. The faculty signatories advocate that Princeton “establish a core distribution requirement focused on the history and legacy of racism.” A distribution requirement focused on the “legacy of racism” and a per-department prize for work “that is actively anti-racist” would add up to a University that privileges a particular point of view.
The president and two vice presidents of the Princeton Graduate Student Government penned their disapproval of Princeton University’s recent affirmation of free speech. In their response letter, Karina Alventosa, president; Gabe Moore, vice president of internal affairs; and Lauren Feldman, vice president of the Graduate Student Government, took issue with the statement’s affirmation of free expression, stating that it protects “hate” at the university. They argued that the letter’s emphasis on the importance of free expression “reads as a typical dog-whistle often used to excuse racist speech and hateful actions.”
Excerpt: The [campus] protests [in the summer of 2020] are part of an international eruption of outrage against racism and an insistence that positive change — real change — be pursued immediately. That dissent is splendid in many respects. But being on the side of anti-racism is no inoculation against error. An allegation of systemic racism leveled against a university is a serious charge. If an allegation is flimsy or baseless, it ought to be recognized as such. Some charges of racism are simply untenable. Some complainants are careless about fact-finding and analysis. And some propose coercive policies that would disastrously inhibit academic freedom. An exemplification of both of these disturbing tendencies is found in the ultimatum delivered in July 2020 to the president of Princeton University, Christopher Eisgruber, in a letter that was signed by about 350 professors, lecturers, and graduate students (on a campus with a faculty numbering around 1,280). The most egregious demand is for a faculty committee to “oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty.” If adopted, this proposal would throw a pall over intellectual life at the university.
I escaped communist Romania in 1975 and came to the US to pursue my dream—attracted to the United States, as millions of other immigrants have been, by its reputation as a country that values freedom and rewards hard work and talent. I came with nothing but a strong desire to become a research mathematician, yet have been able to succeed far beyond my expectations [largely] due to the sheer good fortune of being able to pursue my career in the US within an academic system which has been, at least until today, the freest, most competitive, and fairest in the world. All this, however, is now in question. American colleges and universities, as well as many other institutions, are under attack by an ideology that I cannot but describe as insidious.
In late June, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC) published a letter that asked the University to reaffirm its commitment to upholding freedom of speech and thought. Since its release, we have been met with a deluge of dissent that misrepresents the arguments expressed in the letter. Dylan Galt ’20 authored arguably the most deluded and hypocritical rebuttal to POCC yet. His arguments predictably degenerated to broad generalizations and mentions of policy changes that we neither endorsed nor rejected in the original letter. As two women of color and members of POCC, we’re writing to disprove this misconception and show Galt (and those alike) the hypocrisy in their myopic support of “diversity” on campus.