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.
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.