July 2023 Newsletter

July 28, 2023 8 min read

July 2023 Newsletter

PFS Monthly Newsletter 

July 27, 2023 

To Princetonians for Free Speech Subscribers, Members and Friends,

Welcome to the second PFS Monthly Newsletter.  Below you will find our most important updates and top news for the month, articles you don’t want to miss, and other news and links of special note. 

To see our inaugural Newsletter sent to you on June 28, please click HERE.

A Special Feature

Rob Montz

We bring to your attention an independent filmmaker, Rob Montz, co-founder and CEO of  Good Kid Productions. He has made some of the most provocative and insightful films about the free speech and academic freedom crisis on America’s elite college campuses.  Montz explains how he found this rich niche in filmmaking: “In 2016, I got this idea to profile the free speech crisis rocking my alma mater, Brown, which is basically the Wuhan lab/ground zero for the kind of brutal hysterical censoriousness that's now common on campus, the resulting film was the biggest success of my career, and I’ve been exploring the absurd and obscene dysfunctions of elite high-ed ever since.”

Montz’ specialty is the short-form documentary that exposes administrative scandal and hypocrisy at America’s top universities, including Princeton, Yale, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.  Most recently his focus is Princeton, on a subject PFS covered extensively as it unfolded. Watch  There is no Free Speech “Crisis” on Campus, A Princeton Inquisition (2023) about the rancorous attacks on and firing of Princeton’s former Classics professor Joshua Katz.  

Silence U. Is the University Killing Free Speech an Open Debate? (2016) focusses on Montz’s alma mater Brown University,  What Has Yale Become? (2017) recounts a story that you may remember began back in 2015 over Halloween costumes.  Each of these mini-documentaries is 12 - 13 minutes long and all of them are well worth watching.  And for an even larger scandal, watch Montz’s 25-minute film:  Harvard Canceled its Best Black Professor. Why? (2022).It’s about Roland Fryer, Harvard economist and recipient of many awards and accolades for his academic work including a MacArthur “Genius Grant.”  This film was covered in The Free Press in  “Harvard’s War against its Superstar Black Professor” and Montz himself elaborated on the scandal for Quillette  HERE

Read more about Rob Montz and his filmmaking on the Good Kid Productions Substack  HERE

What you Need to Know

Institutional Neutrality Update

As many of you know, last year PFS  featured an original article about why the principle of institutional neutrality is essential to creating a culture of free speech and academic freedom on college campuses.  This article coincided with a full day conference  Institutional Neutrality and the Mission of the University hosted by Princeton’s James Madison Program.

What is the principle of institutional neutrality and why does it matter?  To encourage the widest possible diversity of viewpoints among community members, a university and all its departments should never take official positions on contentious issues of the day. Princeton senior Matthew Wilson in his recent  Newsweek opinion piece sums it up this way:

Imagine walking into your first day of class and finding out that your beliefs have been officially condemned by the academic department offering the course. Pick the hot-button topic: abortion, affirmative action, marriage and sexual morality, transgender identity, Israel—university authorities have publicly decreed that your particular viewpoint is incompatible with the department's values. As a student, your dissenting viewpoint immediately brands you as an outsider. While the department may not have explicitly stated that you are unwelcome in its sponsored courses and majors, the message is clear: we are an ideological sect, and your unorthodoxy is anathema to us. … Sounds less than ideal? It should.

The issue is becoming a bellwether for how seriously a university takes its commitment to academic freedom and free speech, and Princeton is in the spotlight now.  Recently in  “Should Princeton Departments Weigh in on Politics?” the Princeton Alumni Weekly reported that a proposed policy came up for a vote at the May 23 faculty meeting, but was unexpectedly shelved.  President Eisgruber spearheaded the effort to create this policy, and the faculty group he charged with the task fell well short of recommending full commitment to institutional neutrality. In fact its recommendation encouraged university offices and departments to make official statements when it is thought to be “critical” to the unit’s functioning, or when “to be silent” is deemed “untenable.”  Princeton Professor Keith Whittington, author of  Speak Freely:Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech believes any such official statement is antithetical to a university’s core mission. He explained to PAW:“If you encourage departments to start issuing these kinds of statements, it’s going to be bad for those particular universities [and] it’s going to be bad for higher education more generally.”

Those pushing for Princeton to commit to the principle of institutional neutrality assume it will be uphill, especially as President Eisgruber himself rejected the principle in favor of  a watered-down alternative he calls “institutional restraint” which he outlines  HERE.  If President Eisgruber’s  May 30 Commencement address is an example of what he means by “restraint” then he has apparently missed the point of why institutional neutrality is so important.  It is unclear what comes next, but we will be following developments closely.

Witherspoon Statue Controversy Update


You can read PFS coverage of the controversy surrounding the Witherspoon statue that stands in Firestone Plaza  HERE. In this coverage PFS highlights important new historical evidence about Witherspoon and his relationship to slavery and abolition that was not considered by the Princeton and Slavery Project’s work on Witherspoon, or by those who petitioned to remove the statue. The good news is that on April 21 Princeton hosted a panel discussion, “Witherspoon in Historical Context,” in which Witherspoon’s life and thought was discussed by an impressive line-up of academic experts. It can be viewed  HERE.  Look for news of a second panel discussion at Princeton, this one focused on the statue, scheduled for this fall.   Princeton’s naming committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees sometime during the 2023-24 academic year.  Princeton is still accepting comment from alumni and others  HERE.

Articles you Don’t want to Miss

Conor Friedersdorf,  “The Hypocrisy of Mandatory Diversity Statements” in the Atlantic Monthly July 3, 2023

Friedersdorf takes a hard look at what happens when universities demand that everyone they hire and every faculty member they promote holds the same values. He concludes that the costs of such litmus tests are “far too high to justify, especially absent evidence that they do significant good.”

“Mandatory DEI statements send the message that it’s okay for academics to chill the speech of colleagues. If half of faculty members believe that diversity statements are ideological litmus tests, fear of failing the test will chill free expression within a large cohort, even if they are wrong. Shouldn’t that alone make the half of academics who support these statements rethink their stance?

And he articulates why this practice is damaging to the larger culture:  

“…mandatory DEI statements are profoundly anti-diversity. And that strikes me as an especially perilous hypocrisy for academics to indulge at a time of falling popular support for higher education. A society can afford its college professors radical freedom to dissent from social orthodoxies or it can demand conformity, but not both. Academic-freedom advocates can credibly argue that scholars must be free to criticize or even to denigrate God, the nuclear family, America, motherhood, capitalism, Christianity, John Wayne movies, Thanksgiving Day, the military, the police, beer, penetrative sex, and the internal combustion engine—but not if academics are effectively prohibited from criticizing progressivism’s sacred values.”

Jason L. Riley,  “The Affirmative Action Illusion,” in City Journal, July 7, 2023

We prefer to limit comment on fraught racial issues, except as they directly impact free speech and academic freedom. We make an exception by recommending this article by the eminent black journalist and public intellectual Jason L. Riley, for one because his insightful commentary makes mention of PFS founder Stuart Taylor Jr., and also because it raises an important question: Why are so many academics, university administrators, students and others so afraid to open their eyes and see what Jason Riley so clearly sees? 

Results of the first PFS annual student poll

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) each year conducts a student survey at over 200 colleges and universities to gather information about campus free speech culture. Each year Princeton ranks abysmally low, coming in 169 out of 203 in 2022. 

Early this year, PFS decided to take a closer look at what Princeton students think and know about free speech.  We conducted our first annual poll using College Pulse, the same polling agency FIRE uses for its surveys.  The full results are now on our new website  HERE.

Events

Please put on your calendar the following dates for our exciting line-up of on-campus speakers: 

On  Wednesday, September 13 PFS will host Washington Post columnist  George F. Will *68, an event co-sponsored by the  James Madison Program’s Initiative on Freedom of Thought, Inquiry and Expression.  On  Tuesday, October 24 we will present  Mitch Daniels ‘71, former Governor of Indiana and former President of Purdue University, co-sponsored by Whig-Clio. And on  Wednesday, November 15, also co-sponsored by the James Madison Program, we will host Manhattan Institute Fellow  Heather Mac Donald, author most recently ofWhen Race Trumps Merit: How the Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty, and Threatens Lives.If you can’t make it to campus, all these events will be available afterwards on YouTube.

And you can view recordings of our past on-campus events  HERE.

Welcome to the PFS team!  

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are delighted to announce that Ethan Hicks ’26 and Khoa Sands ’26, have joined PFS as Writing Fellows. See Ethan Hick’s first PFS article  “Nadine Strossen’s Call to Action.”  And former PFS board member and recent graduate Myles McKnight ’23 will be joining us as Programs Associate.   

THE NATIONAL MOVEMENT

The  Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) has been busy growing!  It recently announced three new member groups: The  Columbia Free Speech Alliance, the  Cal Free Speech Movement (CalFSM), and the  Michigan State Alumni for Free Speech. This brings the total number of AFSA member groups to 19.If you or someone you know is a Columbia or a University of California or a Michigan State alumnus, please feel free to share these websites and encourage them to join!

PFS ally the  American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) continues to have significant impact in its mission to promote academic freedom, excellence and accountability on college campuses. Click  HERE for ACTA’s 2022 annual report. 

And ACTA has spotlighted an extremely impressive young Princeton grad: Francesca Block ’22.  Francesca participated in a superb panel discussion:  The Unsocial Network: How Administrators Hijack the College ExperienceFrancesca is a reporter for the Des Moines Register and her article  “Stanford’s War Against Its Own Students” appeared last March in Bari Weiss’s The Free Press. Check out both! 

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

The smart way to keep people passive and
obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of
acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate
within that spectrum. That gives people the sense
that there's free thinking going on, while all the
time the presuppositions of the system are being
reinforced by the limits put on the range of the
debate. 
Noam Chomsky, The Common Good, 1998

Support PFS

Thank you for your interest in our new newsletter and our website.  Please forward our newsletter and/or a link to our website to others who might be interested, or suggest that others subscribe directly  HERE.  And of course, we welcome your comments and suggestions  HERE.

For more national and campus news concerning free speech, academic freedom and related topics, please visit our website  HERE.

And if you like what we are doing, please give!

Click below to support Princetonians for Free Speech and donate today!

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