Following contentious congressional hearings in December, Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey contacted higher education leaders across the state about antisemitic and other hate speech on campus. She asked how we are responding. Here is my reply, lightly edited for space. Her letter is available at https://sherrill.house.gov/media and my full reply is at https://president.princeton.edu/speeches-writings/statements.
Dear Representative Sherrill:
Like you, I am appalled by the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the world, in our country, and on college campuses.
Princeton University deplores any expression of hatred directed at any individual or group. We vigorously support the ability of students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds to thrive on our campus.
Your letter asks what we do to ensure that students are free from bullying and harassment on our campus. Our approach has three elements. First, we have clearly specified procedures by which students may file a harassment complaint, and we take every complaint seriously. Second, we provide advisers and resources that can supplement, or serve as an alternative to, the formal complaint process depending on the nature of the incident or a student’s preferences.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, Princeton works continuously to promote a culture that encourages mutual respect and free inquiry. These efforts begin from the moment students arrive on campus. Orientation modules on both free speech and diversity emphasize not only the University’s broad protection for academic freedom and debate, but also the responsibility of community members to listen carefully and speak respectfully to one another.
We reinforce those messages in myriad ways, including through presidential statements reaffirming the University’s values. I have spoken out against antisemitism and Islamophobia throughout my presidency. 1 Early in my presidency, I signaled the importance of Princeton’s relationship to Israel by traveling there to meet with university leaders and host a dinner for Israeli alumni. 2 When the American government enacted a travel ban against students from Muslim countries, I organized a letter from university presidents in opposition to it. 3 When Hamas launched its abominable terrorist acts against Israel on October 7, I issued an unequivocal condemnation of them. 4
More important than my own efforts are the relationships that people throughout this campus build day in and day out, in ordinary times and in times of crisis. For example, the Rose Castle Society brings together students (including pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students) to learn how people of opposing viewpoints can interact productively across differences. 5 Another example is the public dialogue forged from a multi- year friendship that began on our campus, between two public policy deans, one of whom is Palestinian-American and the other of whom is a former Israeli intelligence officer. 6
Princeton and other universities take pride in cultivating these civil and substantive conversations, conversations that bridge differences in a way that is rare in our fractious society.
Your letter also asks how we address the harms of hate speech while promoting free speech. We have adopted the Chicago Principles on free speech, which largely track the broad protections of the First Amendment. We believe, with Justice Louis Brandeis, that whenever possible the remedy for bad speech should be better speech, not censorship. 7
We emphasize to students and to our community that, even under this broad set of rights, harassment is impermissible.
We provide guidance about the relationship between Princeton’s free expression policy, its anti-harassment policy, and the University’s broader inclusivity goals. 8 We educate our community about free speech rights, civility, and the purposes served by free expression. 9 And, as already noted, we work continuously to promote and model a culture of civil discussion about sensitive and important topics.
Of course, like anyone who is fully committed to First Amendment principles, I must sometimes protect speech that I find repugnant, hateful, or awful. When Princeton cannot—and should not—suppress or discipline immoral speech because it is protected under our policies and the First Amendment, the University can still respond in many ways. We can sponsor better speech, we can state our values, and we can support our students. We will do all these things, and we will do them in a way that is even-handed and fair to all identities and viewpoints, but we will not stoop to censorship.
You close your letter with an offer to work with us. I appreciate that offer, and I do have one request. Please continue to be a leader for New Jersey and the country in promoting the same kind of civility and respect in the
Congress that you rightly ask universities to promote on our campuses. The issues confronting us demand serious and thoughtful discussion, and I believe that we can and should do better than the hearing that took place last week.
Hamas’s evil attacks were another reminder, if any were necessary, that America and its allies have real enemies in this world. If we, and the values for which we stand, are to prevail, we will need to support one another and our defining institutions. America’s leading research universities are sources of enormous strength to this country, envied throughout the world because of the education we provide and the pathbreaking research we do. Of course, we can always do better, and I welcome partnerships with you and others who seek in good faith to make our country and our colleges the best that they can be.
With warmest best wishes,
Christopher L. Eisgruber
1 President’s Blog, “Statement on Terrorist Attacks and War in the Middle East,” October 10, 2023; “The Evolution of Understanding: Universities and the Fight Against Antisemitism,” October 17, 2021, Center for Jewish History, YouTube.
2 “President Eisgruber Connects with Alumni, Academic Leaders, in Israel,” Princeton University home page, January 6, 2015.
3 “Eisgruber, Other University Presidents Ask President Trump to ‘Rectify or Rescind’ Immigration Order,” Princeton home page, February 2, 2017; President’s Blog, “Faith, Knowledge, and Community: Muslim Life at Princeton University,” February 24, 2017, from the March 1, 2017, Princeton Alumni Weekly President’s Page.
4 President’s Blog, “Statement on Terrorist Attacks and War in the Middle East,” October 10, 2023. 5Saxon, Jamie, “Rose Castle Foundation Engages Princeton Students to Become ‘Agents of Reconciliation,’” Princeton home page, November 22, 2023.
6 Aronson, Emily, “Princeton and Columbia Policy School Deans Model Scholarly Discourse During Talk About Israel-Hamas War,” Princeton home page, November 29, 2023.
7 “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom.” Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 377 (Brandeis concurring).
8 The Intersection of Free Expression and Inclusivity, Princeton University. https://inclusive. princeton.edu/addressing-concerns/faqs/free-expression-and-inclusivity