Contested Civility: Free Speech & Inclusivity on Campus

Lecture by Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber at University of Pennsylvania Law School

Excerpt: It has become an important part of my job to articulate the value, meaning, and limits of my university’s commitment to free speech.  My first and principal claim is that public debate and, to a lesser but real extent, scholarly commentary have unnecessarily pitted free speech and inclusivity against one another.  If rightly understood, free speech and inclusivity are both essential aspects of the University’s mission, and they are also often, though not always, complementary and mutually reinforcing ideals.  For universities to carry out their truth-seeking mission effectively, people have to be free to challenge orthodoxies. Second, critics are right to warn that excessive sensitivity or political correctness will stifle the vitality of collegiate life.  All of us should try to be tactful when we speak about sensitive subjects, such as race or affirmative action, but we should also do our best to forgive those who give offense unintentionally.  If we are quick to take umbrage at other people’s remarks, we can never have the candid, unsettling conversations that college life requires. I worry in particular that conservative students nowadays are sometimes shunned or disparaged for expressing views unpopular with their peers.  Colleges need strong, thoughtful conservative voices on our faculties and in our student bodies if we are to address the issues that matter to our nation and the world.