PFS Letter to Trustees - September 2023

September 27, 2023 4 min read

September 18, 2023

Dear President Eisgruber and Board of Trustees:

With the beginning of a new school year at Princeton, we are writing to you on behalf of Princetonians for Free Speech (PFS) to reiterate our strong support for Princeton becoming a leader on free speech and academic freedom issues and to inform you of our efforts to assist in achieving that goal.

PFS is an organization driven by Princeton alumni that works with alumni, students, and faculty to support free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity at Princeton. Thousands of alumni, as well as students and faculty, follow our efforts through our website. We welcome you to visit it here.

It is clear that more work needs to be done by Princeton’s leadership on educating students about the meaning and importance of free speech and academic freedom. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the country’s foremost defender of free speech and free thought, has just released its 2024 College Free Speech Rankings. It is based on a survey of over 55,000 students at over 250 colleges and universities throughout the country. As had been the case in previous FIRE surveys, Princeton’s rank is once again very poor -- 187 out of 248. Last year its rank was 169 out of 203. The FIRE rankings are increasingly being used by the media, prospective students and their parents, and faculty. We urge Princeton to undertake an explicit program to improve this poor ranking.

The findings of the 2024 FIRE survey reinforce PFS’s own extensive survey of Princeton students undertaken last spring in collaboration with the premiere student survey authority College Pulse. Please see Princeton’s Free Speech Campus Culture here. Both this survey and the FIRE survey clearly show that there is a large gap between Princeton’s rhetoric about free speech and the sobering reality on campus that most Princeton students neither support nor understand free speech principles. For example, the PFS survey found that:


  • Only 18% of Princeton students said they were very familiar with Princeton’ free speech rule.

  • 48% of Princeton students said that any speech that uses discriminatory language or that a class of persons finds offensive or hurtful should not be allowed, a standard that clearly violates Princeton’s free speech rule. Only 30% said they supported the standard of free speech in the First Amendment.

  • 40% of Princeton students said that an athletic team should be able to deny a spot to, or suspend, a student who expresses views others find offensive, again a view that also clearly violates the free speech rule.

  • Most disturbingly, only 24% said it is never appropriate to shout down a speaker; only

57% said it is never appropriate to block other students from attending a speech; and 16% said it might at least on rare occasions be appropriate to use violence to block a speaker.

In the 2022 orientation for entering students, which PFS applauded, Princeton included a robust program on free speech, including a strong and well-received speech on the subject by President Eisgruber. The 2023 orientation also included a program on free speech, and we applaud the administration for including it, although it has been criticized for lacking ideological balance, such as in this article in National Review by Princeton senior Matthew Wilson. PFS believes such a free speech program should be included in every orientation.

Clearly much more needs to be done by the University on free speech issues. Other university administrations have in recent months announced initiatives to improve free speech culture and understanding on their campuses. See, for example, this recent report about the presidents of over a dozen colleges, including the presidents of Cornell and Duke, undertaking aggressive programs to educate students on free speech and academic freedom. The PEN America initiative is a good start, and we urge the administration to aggressively promote it. 

PFS stands ready to support the Princeton administration in any such efforts. In addition, PFS is engaging in a comprehensive program on free speech and academic freedom for this school year, working with students and faculty.  An email has been sent to the entire student body on the importance of free speech that includes links for further education. Posters will be put up around campus promoting this campaign.

We are also providing support for speakers to come to campus to discuss various topics and to model open discourse, working with Whig-Clio, the James Madison Program, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, and other student groups. On September 13, we held the first of this year’s programs, in conjunction with the James Madison Program, in which George Will was the speaker.

We will be undertaking our student survey again this spring, as well as in future years, in order to provide an objective measure of progress at Princeton on free speech and academic freedom.

We also urge Princeton to establish an ombudsperson to oversee free speech and academic freedom problems and complaints as they arise, and thereby to provide a trusted place for students and faculty to bring concerns about violations of the Princeton free speech rule. 

Thank you for considering these views, and we stand ready to support further efforts by Princeton in support of free speech and academic freedom. To further that effort, we ask that a member of the Princeton administration be designated to work with us on free speech programs.


Stuart Taylor, Jr., PFS President

Edward L. Yingling, PFS Secretary

Todd Rulon-Miller, PFS Treasurer

Leslie Spencer, PFS Vice Chair

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