Latest News and Commentary: Princeton

January 1, 2023
By Brett Tomlinson
Princeton Alumni Weekly, January 2023 Issue

Excerpt: The University’s Committee on Naming is reviewing a proposal to remove or replace a campus statue of John Witherspoon, an influential figure in the American Revolution who owned slaves during his time as Princeton’s president.

Last May, five members of the philosophy department — graduate students Brendan Kolb, Kathryn Rech, Giulia Weissmann, and Waner Zhang, and Professor Boris Kment *06 — created a petition that said the statue, which has stood outside East Pyne Hall since 2001, “pays great honor … to someone who participated actively in the enslavement of human beings, and used his scholarly gifts to defend the practice.” The petition, signed by 285 members of the campus community, proposed replacing the statue with a plaque that “details both the positive and negative aspects of Witherspoon’s legacy.”

January 1, 2023
By David Walter
Princeton Alumni Weekly, January 2023 Issue

Excerpt: In May 2022, at a Reunions panel on “The Fight For Free Speech at Princeton and Beyond,” Princeton’s McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Robert “Robby” George, shared this parable:

“I arrived at Princeton way back in the Middle Ages, in the fall of 1985. And [back then], there were some faculty members who were known to relish the prospect of a certain kind of student coming in. They had a real reputation for it — they’d be rubbing their hands together [in anticipation] of a student coming in from the cornfields of Indiana: Eagle Scout. Grandpa was a World War II veteran. Saluted the flag. Patriotic spirit. Evangelical Christian. Traditional morality. And they couldn’t wait. Because they were going to get him here, and they were going to tell him about Darwin, and the historical criticism of the Bible, and so forth. Challenge him — challenge him!” We don’t get that student anymore.

December 30, 2022
By Brett Tomlinson
Princeton Alumni Weekly, December 2022 Issue

Excerpt: Mention the word “naming” at Princeton and likely the first story that comes to mind is one of “renaming.” In June 2020, the Board of Trustees voted to remove Woodrow Wilson 1879’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs and a residential college. It was a decision that President Eisgruber ’83 called “wrenching but right” in a Washington Post op-ed published soon after the announcement, adding that “we cannot disregard or ignore racism when deciding whom we hold up to our students as heroes or role models.” 

December 29, 2022
By Keith E. Whittington
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: Eugene beat me to the punch in posting about the new 9th Circuit case on a teacher wearing a MAGA hat to his school's cultural sensitivity training session, so I will be brief. You can read a longer excerpt from the case in his post below.

I wanted to point out a specific feature of the case, which is how it treated the concept of workplace "disruption" within a Pickering balancing analysis of how government employers can respond to government employee speech. I argue in a forthcoming article that the disruptive workplace component of the Pickering balancing test frequently becomes a means for imposing a heckler's veto on government employees with unpopular political views.

December 29, 2022
By Dale Chamberlain

Excerpt: Controversy surrounding a statue on the campus of Princeton University has sparked fresh debate about how evangelicals should remember significant figures in the movement’s history, their theology, and their complicity in the institution of slavery. 

Installed in front of East Pyne Hall in November 2001, the statue in question depicts John Witherspoon (1723-1794), a founding father of America and influential leader in the history of Princeton University and the American church as a whole. Because Witherspoon was a slaveowner who advocated and voted against the abolition of slavery in New Jersey, a group of 300 people, consisting mostly of graduate students, are calling for the statue to be taken down. 

December 20, 2022
By Ethan Hicks
The Princeton Tory

Excerpt: Princeton claims it is “committed to free and open inquiry in all matters” and promises to promote “a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation,” according to the University’s Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities.

The University is not living up to these high ideals. A recent survey of conservative students on campus conducted by the Tory found that 71% feel that Princeton does not create an environment where their beliefs are accepted without judgment, while only 10% feel that it creates an environment where their beliefs are accepted without judgment. 79% of conservative students believe that a random student at Princeton is likely to think less of them after learning they identify as conservative. 

December 20, 2022
By Zach Gardner
The Princeton Tory

Excerpt: When I arrived on Princeton’s campus this fall, I was enthralled by the richness of its history and traditions. I was proud to start my journey at such an important American institution, and I cherished the opportunity to contribute to its legacy. During my first week, I found myself in Firestone Library poring over the works of Princeton’s sixth President, John Witherspoon. Over the summer, I had developed a deep interest in the role he played as a mentor to so many prominent Founders, and I wanted to steep myself in his teachings. During my first few weeks at Princeton, I read everything from his Lectures in Moral Philosophy to his sermons “Christian Magnanimity” and “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men.” With each word, I felt a deeper connection to Princeton and its history, and I felt a growing sense of responsibility to continue his legacy. 

December 18, 2022
By Joe Scanlan
Daily Princetonian

Excerpt: I’m glad to see that the conversation about my class — VIS 321: Words As Objects — continues. I commend students — from my class, in the visual arts department, and others — who have expressed their opinions online and in this paper, including those who have called for my termination, for exercising their free speech rights.

However, my reading of the Jonah Mixon-Webster poem was not only about free speech, but also about responsibility.

December 8, 2022
By Julian Hartman-Sigall, Sophie Glaser and Kayra Sener
Daily Princetonian

Excerpt: A group of self-identifying Christian protestors stood along Washington Road across from Robertson Hall on Tuesday, making sexist, homophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Catholic, and otherwise offensive remarks to the surrounding crowd of students. They were met by counter-protestors from the University community. 

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel Rev. Alison Boden condemned the statements of the protestors and emphasized the need for “love and justice.” However, Boden said it is their right to protest on campus. 

December 5, 2022
By Julie Bonette
Princeton Alumni Weekly

Excerpt: Students made their disapproval known after Princeton University said it is standing behind Joe Scanlan, a professor of visual arts who said the N-word in one of his classes. 

The controversy started on Nov. 3 while Scanlan was teaching “Words as Objects.” Students had been assigned to read a series of poems by Jonah Mixon-Webster including “Black Existentialism No. 8: Ad Infinitum; or Ad Nauseam” — an example of concrete poetry, which is defined by the Poetry Foundation as emphasizing “nonlinguistic elements in its meaning, such as a typeface that creates a visual image of the topic.”