Latest News and Commentary: Princeton

July 1, 2021
By Marc Fisher
Princeton Alumni Weekly, July 2021 Issue

Excerpt: Since 1900, the Princeton Alumni Weekly has been, as its title page states, a “magazine by alumni for alumni.” What exactly that motto means is now the subject of discussions between the University administration and the magazine’s independent board. As the board’s chair, I want you to know that the future and character of your alumni magazine are at stake, and I invite you to make your voices heard.

This spring, University administrators informed PAW’s board that Princeton intends to change its relationship with the magazine to secure PAW’s financial health, to assure that PAW operates under the same rules as other University departments, and to protect against the magazine creating legal liability for the University. Princeton proposes to take on the entire cost of producing and distributing PAW. At the same time, Princeton has not guaranteed the continued editorial independence of the magazine.

June 30, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington, Princeton Professor of Politics
The Washington Post

Excerpt: Bills aimed at directing how race is taught in public schools and colleges are sweeping through Republican statehouses across the country. The proposals seem to be getting worse, not better. A bill recently introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature goes further than many others in trying to ban so much as the discussion of any “racist or sexist concept” in public elementary schools, high schools and colleges.

Let us set aside the unhelpful debate over whether what is at issue is something called “critical race theory.” Proponents and opponents of these bills have often talked past one another by shifting the boundaries of what belongs under the label. I have no doubt that there are many pernicious ideas and modes of teaching abroad in the land. Nonetheless, bills like the one proposed in Pennsylvania are the wrong tools for the job.

June 16, 2021
By Keith Whittington, Princeton Professor of Politics
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: I have little doubt that there are many pernicious ideas and practices currently being peddled in workplaces and schools across the country under the broad rubric of diversity, equity and inclusion. Inside Higher Ed has a report just today about an example of "diversity training" at Stanford University that might well run afoul of existing civil rights laws. Organizations that subject their members to such toxic requirements deserve all the litigation and bad publicity that they have coming to them.

Unsurprisingly, when voters are annoyed by such bad behavior, someone starts to think that there ought to be a law and politicians see an opportunity. In this context, that has resulted in a lot of ham-handed legislative proposals, some of which have already found their way into law. We are not having a very well informed or intelligent debate about that now, but a debate there will be.


June 8, 2021
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason

Excerpt: I am pleased to note that the Academic Freedom Alliance has launched a new podcast, The Academic Freedom Podcast. New episodes should drop every month or so and explore issues relating to academic freedom and campus free speech.

The first episode is now available, and it consists of the audio recording of the webinar panel that the AFA recently hosted on the landmark 6th circuit case on First Amendment protections for academic freedom and classroom speech by professors. The case is Meriwether v. Hartop. For that conversation, I was joined by Jeannie Suk Gersen, Steve Sanders, and Volokh Conspiracy co-blogger Jonathan Adler. I hope you will subscribe so that you will not miss future episodes that will include a mix of thematic panel discussions and guest interviews.


June 7, 2021
By John McWhorter
The Atlantic

Excerpt: The classics department at Princeton University recently decided that the idea that classics majors ought to know Latin or Greek has been a mistake. Old-fashioned, perhaps. Until now, undergrads who wanted to major in the study of classical texts needed to come into the concentration with at least an intermediate level of Latin or Greek. But those students will no longer even have to learn either language to receive a degree in classics. This is a typical example of a university rushing to make policy changes under the guise of promoting racial equity that are as likely to promote racism as to uproot it.

The department had considered the policy change before, the Princeton Alumni Weekly reported, but saw it as taking on a “new urgency” by the “events around race that occurred last summer.”


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.