We have been quite critical of Princeton's orientation a year ago, which contained not one word about Princeton's robust free speech rule and in fact contained a section on racism at Princeton that suggested free speech is a tool for racists. We will not revisit those criticisms here.
Instead, now we celebrate the dramatic turn toward championing free speech in general and Princeton’s free speech rule in particular that took place during freshman orientation at McCarter Theater on September 1, and especially in the eloquent speech to the freshman class by Myles McKnight, President of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition. Nearly 2,000 enthusiastic students packed the auditorium. The text of McKnight’s speech, which was live-streamed to other freshmen in locations around the campus, is posted below and within.
“[T]hat the fight for free speech has become partisan is a true shame,” McKnight told the assembled students. “Free speech is neither a conservative nor a progressive value. It is a truth-seeking value. In the university context, it is an academic value––as deeply rooted in the identity of the University as anything could be. Just as you couldn’t have a university without scholarship, you couldn’t have a healthy scholarly culture without the opposition, open dissent, and vigorous argument that free speech protects.”
He added: “Formal protections for free speech are important, but the informal culture bearing on the expression of diverse points of view can be even more critical when the truth-seeking ideal is what’s at stake. Therefore, we should all celebrate our University’s formal adoption of the Chicago Free Speech Principles, which provide robust protections for expressive freedom and protect your rights as new members of this community to speak and write openly.”
We also welcome the support for free speech voiced in talks by President Eisgruber and Hannah Kapoor, Vice President of Undergraduate Student Government. Mr. Eisgruber said that even – indeed, “especially” -- when a listener feels offended by a speaker’s assertion, there is value in allowing it to be said.
"I want to start by calling your attention to the University’s statement on free expression,” Mr. Eisgruber said. “I hope that you will take the time to read it if you have not done so already. Like the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it provides broad freedom for students, faculty, and staff to state their opinions.
"Here, in part, is what the statement says: 'Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.. . . . that is a bold and powerful commitment.' "
McKnight and another senior, Abigail Anthony, were instrumental in encouraging the administration to have this positive free speech program. We are pleased to say that these students are currently serving in the two slots reserved for students on the PFS Board of Directors.
We have repeatedly assailed President Eisgruber’s past assertions that the free speech rule protects the supposed rights of his subordinates to use the University’s website and orientation to smear as racists professors with whom they disagree on racial issues. We very much hope that this year's orientation on free speech represents a turn for the better.
Indeed, the presentations on free speech and the reception that they received appear to be the most hopeful signs in recent memory that free speech is still alive at Princeton. We fervently hope that Princeton will make celebration of free speech a permanent part of freshman orientation and other campus events.