Like alumni of universities across the country, many Princeton graduates have become deeply concerned about the attacks on free speech and academic freedom at our alma mater. It is not just the public attacks that are of concern.
Multiple national and college-specific polls have shown that faculty and students are afraid to say what they think. Princeton is no different.
One student told us he was afraid to speak up not just because he would be attacked, but because others with whom he was working on a project might also be attacked for associating with him.
It was certain that instances of indoctrinating, intimidating, and shaming students would pick up once in-person classes began again this semester. Little did we know that the indoctrination at Princeton would start during first-year orientation, before the start of classes, or that the orientation would conflict directly with the university’s own free speech rules.
As two Princeton professors stated in an op-ed: During orientation, the entering class received “a mandatory injection not of a vaccine against COVID, but of indoctrination,” including “an utterly one-sided and negative picture of Princeton’s history.”
This indoctrination was in materials prepared by Princeton’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the actions of which are ultimately the responsibility of Christopher Eisgruber, the university’s president.
Much of the orientation was devoted to an extensive “Gallery” of photos, drawings, and texts presenting the history of racism at Princeton, plus a video of professors discussing the gallery. The gallery gives multiple examples of speech and actions that it deems racist.
Some of them – mostly from long ago – clearly were racist, from founders who owned slaves to the racist policies of Woodrow Wilson both as president of Princeton and later as president of the United States to the use of blackface by students in a 1949 theatrical production.
The gallery also stressed isolated, allegedly racist actions by individual students as recently as last year.
It should go without saying that students should learn about the history of racism at Princeton. But should the first presentation by the university to new students, fresh out of high school, be a lengthy portrayal of today’s Princeton largely as an institution marinated in racism?
There was very little context about the history of our country over the same period or about the many positive things Princeton has done to address racism on its campus and beyond.
The gallery and video must have left impressionable new students thinking that Princeton is a hateful and evil place. In fact, one of the speakers in the video, classics Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta, says that Princeton professors should provide their students “with the tools to tear down this place and make it a better one.”
The gallery also contains a vicious attack on one Princeton professor by others for a controversial statement in a July 2020 article that the university later found to be officially protected by its free speech rules.
This attack sent a clear message that Princeton’s rules protecting free speech must have little meaning since the administration will attack its own professors if they say something out of line with woke ideology.
Another message sent by the orientation to new students is that protecting free speech is bad because it allows what partisans call “hate speech.” Professor Padilla Peralta drives the message home when he disparages the way his “colleagues” use free speech as “masculinized bravado,” and advocates “a free speech and academic discourse that is flexed to one specific aim, and that aim is the promotion of social justice, and an anti-racist social justice at that.” There was nothing positive about free speech in the orientation.
Princeton was one of the first universities to adopt the “Chicago Principles,” a statement providing clear standards for protecting campus free speech that was developed at the University of Chicago.
These principles have now been adopted in some form by over 90 colleges and universities. Eisgruber has endorsed them, and they are incorporated into the university’s rules. But the orientation painted a picture directly contrary to the Chicago Principles, and therefore the university’s own rules, in the most fundamental way.
So, what Princeton told students just starting out on their college journey was that this venerated university, which they had worked so hard to get into, is still mired in what Eisgruber has called “systemic racism” and that its free speech rules should not be taken seriously.
Actually, words that run counter to campus orthodoxy may well get you in real trouble; you might even be made an example in next year’s orientation.
Edward Yingling is the secretary-treasurer of Princetonians for Free Speech.
Stuart Taylor Jr. is the president of Princetonians for Free Speech. He is also co-author, with KC Johnson, of “The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities” (Encounter, 2017).
The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ThinkCivics.com.
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