Students Praise Quality of Planned Panel But Prefer Ideological Diversity

January 11, 2022
By Myles J. McKnight and Abigail Y. Anthony

The following letter was addressed to several University officials, including those who lead the offices which are co-sponsoring a January 19th panel on "Race, Speech, and the University."

One of us is the President of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, a student organization that defends free speech, open dialogue, and truth-seeking. The other holds leadership positions in several conservative student groups. We are both elected members of the Department of Politics Undergraduate Committee, and we write with an important request regarding a January 19th panel on on “Race, Speech, and the University,” co-sponsored by your offices.

First, let us convey our gratitude for organizing an impressive panel of speakers to address free speech, racial justice, and the university. Whereas figures like Nikole Hannah-Jones have been shunned elsewhere, Princeton has yet again proven itself the welcoming host of voices deemed too unorthodox for some universities to sponsor. Princeton’s welcome has been extended to other such voices recently; in October of last year, the James Madison Program provided geophysicist Dorian Abbot a platform to give the lecture he was to deliver at MIT before he was cravenly disinvited. When the University amplifies otherwise silenced voices, a service is done to our scholarly community: debates are sharpened, dialogue enhanced, and truth more eagerly sought.

Still, the University’s mission can only be realized if the institution is committed to the several conditions necessary for the flourishing of a truth-seeking environment. The University’s responsibility in this regard goes beyond a simple duty to refrain from “canceling” speakers. In fact, the University bears a duty to actively promote open, honest, and robust dialogue. The mission statement of the Campus Conversation Initiative (CCI)––a co-sponsor of the event we congratulate you for hosting––recognizes this duty perfectly:

"The goal of CCI is to resource opportunities that provide a public forum for productive dialogue; to model honest conversations on a range of complex social issues; and to provide an opportunity for self-reflection and learning about the experiences and viewpoints of others."

Avoiding institutional biases which tend to limit the scope of truth-seeking is a responsibility concomitant with CCI’s mission. Avoiding such biases includes taking care that invited speakers represent an array of ideological perspectives on the issues the University wishes to tackle.

We therefore express our disappointment at the sparsity of ideological diversity on the panel you have assembled. It is no secret that each of the panelists you are hosting hails from roughly the same, leftist school of thought on issues of speech and race. To be sure, their voices add immeasurable value to any conversation on such issues. But these topics should and do invite healthy disagreement from people who occupy posts at the highest echelons of the academy. Esteemed scholars like John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Randall Kennedy, and Thomas Sowell have dealt head-on with issues of race and free speech for decades, articulating positions that figure within a more classical liberal scheme. Some, like Glenn Loury and Tom Sowell, even identify as conservatives. We suspect that no such scholars or like-minded commentators were invited to participate in your January 19th event.

We believe that an event broadcasting diverse perspectives––a debate, perhaps––would enrich the currently emaciated campus discourse on race and free speech. Even so, we are cognizant of the logistical difficulties you may encounter by attempting to reform the January 19th event. To address the one-dimensionality of this panel, we request that you organize a parallel event during the semester to feature scholars whose perspectives reflect the diversity of impressive arguments to be made about speech, race, and university life. Ironically, if designed to mirror the January 19th panel, this event would include only conservative voices. This fact notwithstanding, we feel a diverse panel would do a greater service to our community.

Please consider our request. We would be happy to assist with the design and promotion of a future event, perhaps by providing a list of potential speakers. Our organizations will not shy away from speaking out when institutional bias and double standards are left unaddressed. Worsening as these issues seem to be, we are eager for change.

Faithfully,

Myles J. McKnight
President, Princeton Open Campus Coalition
Representative, Department of Politics Undergraduate Committee

Abigail Y. Anthony
Representative, Department of Politics Undergraduate Committee