The Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry

August 11, 2023 2 min read

August 9, 2023

Summers are not the fastest of times on campus. But the current summer recently brought a major development on the free expression front: the proposal by Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and others of an important new academic free speech-free expression document: Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry.

The Introduction to the Princeton Principles states: “The Chicago Principles of Free Expression (2014) argued that universities should remain committed to ‘free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation.’ The Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry affirm this view while extending its scope. They argue that universities have a special fiduciary duty to foster freedom of thought for the benefit of the societies that sustain them.”

The Introduction adds: “Many of our nation’s colleges and universities are failing to maintain cultures of free and vigorous inquiry. Faculty and university leaders of these institutions should soberly evaluate and revitalize their institutional cultures. In cases where trustees or other non-faculty members engage in reform efforts, they must intervene in good faith by supporting a university’s efforts to fulfill its core mission. Universities should not be made into political or ideological battlegrounds.”

The Princeton Principles also make a number of other points that were not explicit in the Chicago Principles, especially relating to hiring, tenure, and promotion; extracurricular speech; institutional duties and responsibilities; the roles of trustees and alumni; and the potential for state government intervention.

The Chicago Principles were officially adopted in 2015 by Princeton University and adopted or affirmed later that year by major components of eight other campuses. They have now been adopted or similarly affirmed by 101 universities in all.

The national Academic Freedom Alliance today [August 9] sent its members and supporters a statement that begins:

“As part of our effort to spotlight new advancements in the academic freedom movement, we wanted to bring your awareness to a landmark set of principles recently released by Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions and authored by multiple scholars who are also members of the AFA.

“The Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry is the product of months of deliberation and scholarship on the ideals and policies that underlie the special role of the university in American society. You can read the principles and find a full list of the project’s participants and endorsers here.”