Princeton Welcomes the Class of 2027 with Free Speech Events

September 22, 2023 3 min read

Ethan Hicks, ‘26
Princetonians for Free Speech

Excerpt: While Princeton remains ranked significantly below average in the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression 2024 ranking (placing 187th of 248 ranked schools), its commitment to academic freedom of expression in line with the Chicago Principles was renewed during freshman orientation for the Class of 2027. This year’s orientation activities featured a variety of mandatory and optional free speech events educating incoming students on their free speech rights.

On August 29, President Eisgruber held a discussion with current executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, in front of the entire incoming freshman class in McCarter Theater on the importance of embracing freedom of expression in their academic pursuits. The event was a required Core Event for all 1,366 members of the Class of 2027.

The event focused on the importance of free speech, particularly as it pertains to dissent. When Eisgruber asked Romero why he believes free speech is important, Romero replied, “I think it’s foundational to personal fulfillment, in terms of figuring out what you think, what you believe in, who you are, who you associate with. I think it’s foundational to a society that allows individuals to be their very best as they define it. I think it’s essential to the workings of democracy.”

While the University heralded the event as a great success on its website, Eisgruber’s conversation with Romero was not universally well received. In his National Review article titled “The ACLU’s Free-Speech Sophistry Comes to Princeton,” Princeton senior Matthew Wilson, who is the Communications and Marketing Fellow for Princetonians for Free Speech, highlighted Romero’s uniformly pro-progressive rhetoric, much of which was omitted from the University’s official press release for the event.

There was also a smaller event featuring former President of the ACLU Dr. Nadine Strossen as part of the Community Action small group orientation programming. As part of their orientation activities, incoming freshmen participate in a multi-day small group experience. Dr. Strossen spoke to a group of approximately 100 such freshman students placed into the Community Action Program, which focuses on engaging students in complex societal issues. The event was organized by community action fellow Enzo Kho ’26 for the Community Action Youth Development Cohort.

On August 31, Dr. Strossen spoke with students on the importance of free speech and seeking to understand those that hold views different from one’s own in a small log cabin at the Princeton-Blairstown Center. She opened the session with her thoughts on free speech at academic institutions. “Free speech is the essential prerequisite for pursuing and exercising all other rights and all other causes,” she said

Although Dr. Strossen said she is liberal in her political beliefs, she stressed that it does not stop her from befriending those who think differently. For instance, she spoke of her relationship with the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Strossen said that “we strongly agreed on many free speech issues, while strongly disagreeing on other constitutional law issues, such as abortion. And we shared many common interests, including opera and Shakespeare.” Strossen further shared that they did not let their differences prevent them from learning from each other and developing a strong friendship.

Despite her commitment to hearing out those with ideological differences, she stood firm on the importance of never compromising on one’s values. “One can – and should – respect the equal and inherent dignity of every human being, regardless of any individual differences among us,” Strossen told these members of the Class of 2027. “My experience indicates that, the more openly and undefensively we explore and discuss values, the more the issues become a matter of not ‘opposites,’ but rather degrees.”

The Eisgruber-Romero event marks the second year in a row in which the University made a sustained commitment to explaining free speech at Princeton to incoming freshmen. Last year, Myles McKnight, current Programs Associate at Princetonians for Free Speech, gave a speech to the Class of 2026 on why students should care about free speech. McKnight encouraged freshmen to “challenge the institution when it falters or disrespects those ideals, as it often does.”

In addition to the University’s official freshmen orientation events, the James Madison Program held an open house on Free Speech on September 12. The event featured a discussion between Keith Whittington, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, and Myles McKnight. Whittington opened the event by discussing the protections that the Chicago Principles provide both students and faculty to speak freely and invite speakers with whom the University may disagree. McKnight stressed how students must listen to those with whom they may vehemently disagree if they are to seek the truth.

Professor Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program, concluded the event with a discussion of the Madison Program’s Undergraduate Fellows Forum.

Ethan Hicks, a PFS Writing Fellow, is a sophomore from Perry, Ohio studying economics.

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