June 28, 2023
To Princetonians for Free Speech subscribers and friends,
With this inaugural monthly newsletter, PFS is launching a new method of communicating with our subscribers. You will continue to receive our regular email updates, as well as our occasional special updates, that focus on bringing you the most important news articles and analysis concerning the state of free expression and academic freedom at Princeton and around the country.
This monthly newsletter will add a critical dimension to what we already do, by highlighting PFS activities and campus events both past and forthcoming, and providing perspective on developments both at Princeton and at other colleges and universities.
As this is a new venture, we would especially appreciate feedback and suggestions, which you can submit on our website HERE.
We have big and exciting news: Our long-awaited new and improved website is soon to go live! The PFS team has worked hard to bring you many of the features you have suggested and much more. Now you will be able to easily interact through the comments feature on each article, and you can seamlessly support PFS through our online giving portal. Of course our full archive will be there, and all the great content you expect each week will continue, along with new content including this monthly PFS Newsletter. Our team is looking forward to reaching alumni, faculty and students with this state-of-the-art approach to providing the important content we produce. Look for our official announcement after the July 4th holiday. We hope you will share it with fellow alumni, faculty, students, friends and anyone interested in the state of academic freedom and free speech at Princeton and on college campuses throughout the country. We very much look forward to hearing your feedback.
Our #1 update is to make sure you know about our recently released PFS survey of Princeton students, which shows unequivocally that Princeton has a very long way to go to create a culture of free speech, academic freedom and respect for viewpoint diversity on campus.
Conducted in consultation with the foremost free speech organization in the US, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and undertaken by a top student survey research and analytics company, College Pulse, this is the most comprehensive student survey of its kind on a single campus. College Pulse surveyed 250 Princeton undergraduates. The results are alarming in many respects.
While President Eisgruber has made much of the university’s commitment to academic freedom and free expression, the survey clearly shows a huge gap between the administration’s rhetoric on free speech and the reality on campus. And importantly, it shows that a culture of free expression on campus has deteriorated, with students reporting that they feel less comfortable expressing themselves freely than they did a year ago. Here are some highlights: 48% of students supported the concept that speech deemed “hurtful” to a class of persons should not be allowed, a standard that clearly violates Princeton’s own free speech rule. Only 30% said that “all speech protected by the First Amendment should be allowed.” Most disturbingly, only 24% say it is never appropriate to shout down a speaker; only 57% say it is never appropriate to block other students from attending a speech; and 16% say it might at least on rare occasions be appropriate to use violence to block a speaker. On a more optimistic note, the survey allowed students the opportunity to provide ideas as to what could be done to improve the situation, and 60% of those surveyed supported having debates on controversial topics.
To measure trends over time, PFS intends to conduct this survey annually.
Eisgruber’s May 30 Commencement address has caused significant pushback among some students and parents. Rising senior Matthew Wilson '24 wrote On Eisgruber’s Commencement Sermon in the Daily Princetonian. Danielle Shapiro ’25 wrote What Eisgruber Got Wrong about Free Speech and the University for the Princeton Tory. Abigail Anthony ’23 interviewed several unhappy parents for 'Rantings of a Demagogue': Parents angered by Princeton president’s graduation address published by the College Fix.
To fill you in on the national alumni free speech movement spreading across the country: PFS was well represented at the March 30-31 Alumni Summit on Free Expression, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, hosted by the Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA). This is a coalition of alumni free speech groups from 16 colleges and universities, developed by a group including PFS co-founders Edward Yingling, who has now become chair emeritus, and Taylor who, with PFS Vice President Leslie Spencer, are board members. The event was also hosted by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), of which Taylor is a board member.
Reunions '23 PFS Founders Panel
At the Nassau Inn on May 28, Reunions Sunday, PFS held a well-attended breakfast and panel discussion moderated by PFS co-founder Ed Yingling. The panelists were Stuart Taylor, the other PFS co-founder, Todd Rulon-Miller, Treasurer, and Kaleigh Cunningham, director of Outreach and Communications, who were joined by graduating seniors Abigail Anthony and Myles McKnight, both PFS board members. They discussed the precarious state of free speech at Princeton. And they also discussed PFS’s efforts to prevent the removal of the statue of John Witherspoon, who is arguably Princeton’s most important president and a signer of the Declaration of Independence among other distinctions. The petition to remove the statue, which originated in Princeton’s philosophy department, argues for the statue’s removal because Witherspoon had owned two slaves. It is widely understood among historians that Witherspoon was a consistent “gradual” abolitionist, and new historical research that remains unacknowledged by Princeton suggests that he likely emancipated these slaves before his death. You can watch our Reunions '23 event, including a lively Q and A, on YouTube here. We will be closely watching the Witherspoon statue debate as it unfolds next academic year.
The Conformity Gauntlet in Higher Education
On April 11, PFS co-hosted Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). Lukianoff gave a powerful, data-rich talk on pressures to conform on college campuses, “The Conformity Gauntlet in Higher Education” which you can watch here. And to read our original article by PFS Vice President Leslie Spencer ’79, “What Can be Done? Actionable Solutions to Regaining Academic Freedom,” which lays out Lukianoff’s insightful and bold reform ideas, click here.
Civil Liberties On Campus and Beyond
Finally, on March 21 at a PFS-sponsored event, Nadine Strossen, past national president of the ACLU and leading expert on constitutional law and civil liberties, appeared on campus in conversation with Princeton's McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Robert P. George, who is Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. In her remarks Strossen praised PFS: “Stuart Taylor’s organization has not only been instrumental in mobilizing alumni … an under-tapped resource for promoting the classical liberal values that have been under attack on campuses from both ends of the political spectrum across the country.” She added that PFS “has served as a model and inspiration for alumni groups across the country.” Watch “Civil Liberties on Campus and Beyond” here.
We are planning an exciting and ambitious line-up of speakers on campus for the upcoming academic year. Our co-sponsoring groups include Whig-Clio, the James Madison Program, and the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, and speakers already scheduled for this fall include George F. Will, Mitch Daniels, and Heather Mac Donald.
“Go Forth and Argue” by Bret Stephens, New York Times Columnist and 2023 University of Chicago Class Day speaker.
Excerpt: “To those of you who are protesting or planning a walkout, I thank you for not seriously disrupting my speech. And though I’m sorry you won’t hear me out, I completely respect your right to protest any speaker you dislike, including me, so long as you honor the Chicago Principles. It is one of the core liberties that all of us have a responsibility to uphold, protect and honor. …
“… Institutions and their leaders invariably say they support independent thinking and free speech — but usually when that support is easy and costs them nothing, not when it’s hard and requires them to take a stand. They want provocative thinking — provided it isn’t too pointed and offends only the people who don’t count in their social network. They want to foster a culture of argument and intellectual challenge — so long as nobody ever says the wrong thing and feelings don’t get hurt. …
“…institutions become and remain great not because of the weight of their traditions or the perception of their prestige, but because they are places where the sharpest thinking is given the freest rein, and where strong arguments may meet stronger ones, and where ‘error of opinion may be tolerated’ because ‘reason is left free to combat it’ and where joy and delight are generally found at the point of contact — mental or otherwise.”
Excerpt: “Students hesitate to disagree with the politics of their professors; many think that indoctrination is an institutional goal. A large number self-censor while also seeking to silence viewpoints that they judge to be hurtful or offensive. They feel pressure from institutional leadership, their professors, and their peers to conform both inside the classroom and on campus. Such findings should worry university leadership, and they should worry all who consider debate, dialogue, and civil disagreement essential for a free society.
“In his powerful concurrence in the 1927 Whitney vs. California decision, Justice Louis Brandeis argued: 'Those who won our independence . . . believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty.' It would be the worst of ironies for universities to fail to be the cradle of citizens who would take up the duty of discussion and debate."
“How did it ever come to this—that such a fine and distinguished university would institute a policy with such incipient inquisitional overtones, one that turns its campus into a surveillance state? The First Amendment guarantees to everyone not just passive access to but active participation in the marketplace of ideas. Today, the majority breaks that promise to a segment of society who needs it most—college students.”
4th Circuit Court Judge Harvie Wilkinson III, May 31, 2023
The quote is from Judge Wilkinson’s remarkable dissenting opinion in a case that could, as a recent Wall Street Journal editorial suggests, get the case heard before the Supreme Court. It was brought by students at Virginia Tech, challenging the anonymous “bias reporting” system, a technology built into university bureaucracies throughout the country, including Princeton’s. See a longer excerpt from this dissent on our website here, and for those who want to take a deep dive, this page provides a link to the full majority and dissenting opinions.
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December 18, 2023
To Princetonians for Free Speech Subscribers, members and friends,
The chaos on elite university campuses since the massacre in Israel on October 7 has been a wake-up call. Presidents of Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and MIT answered questions by the House Committee on Education during what is now the most viewed hearing ever. It revealed lawyer-prepped obfuscation and the glaring double standards that are the norm in higher education on free speech protections. Donors and trustees forced the resignation of Penn’s president Liz Magill and its board chair Scott L. Bok. Harvard’s board came out in defense of President Claudine Gay while many called for her ouster. Alumni and donors are realizing the true nature of the institutional transformations of their alma maters’ core principles and are demanding change. This is no surprise to us: For three years PFS has watched and reported on this transformation at Princeton and at other universities throughout the country. Join us to keep informed and learn more.
November 28, 2023
To Princetonians for Free Speech subscribers, members and friends,
What a month. The shocking fallout on America’s campuses as a result of the October 7 massacre in Israel has made the mission of PFS more critical than ever. We have attempted to convey the gathering storm around free speech and academic freedom in this, our sixth Monthly Newsletter. We truly welcome your thoughts and feedback HERE.
You may have seen the just-released PFS inaugural Annual Report, recording highlights of an incredible year for PFS, and announcing our priorities going forward. IT’S GIVING TUESDAY! Have a look at the Annual Report HERE and tell us what you think. And consider PFS for your year-end giving HERE. We are extremely grateful for your support and we need you now more than ever!
October 30, 2023
Princetonians for Free Speech Joins Amicus Brief asking the US Supreme Court to hear a Bias Response Team Case.
Last month Princetonians for Free Speech joined the Alumni Free Speech Alliance and eight of its members in submitting a “friend of the court” amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States. In it we argue that the court should agree to hear the case Speech First v. Sands. The case challenges whether Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s Bias Incident Response Team violated students’ first amendment rights through its collecting and storing of records related to students’ expression protected by the First Amendment. PFS’s interest in this case derives directly from the similar bias response system in operation on Princeton’s campus. We believe these systems, which have proliferated at colleges in recent years, serve to chill student expression and promote a climate of fear.