Some uses of no contact and no communication orders have collided with free speech concerns

For the second time in two years, Princeton’s no contact and no communication order (NCO) policy has been updated following criticism from students and advocacy groups, most recently after student journalist Alexandra Orbuch ’25 said she received an NCO from another student after reporting on a pro-Palestinian walkout on campus.

In a statement, University spokesman Michael Hotchkiss said, “The University reviewed its process for no contact and no communication orders in the summer of 2022 and December 2023, in response to concerns expressed by community members. As a result, the University has narrowed the circumstances under which such orders can be issued.”

In posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, Orbuch said protesters at the Nov. 9 event “stalk[ed] and harassed me,” and that, eventually, she was pushed and had her foot stepped on. A student from the protest group sought an NCO against her after the event, and the order was granted.

PAW did not hear back from the student who Orbuch said on X clashed with her at the protest and could not confirm details of the interaction.

“It is unfortunate that it took the censorship of a student journalist for the University to revise this policy, but the new version is a manageable policy that sets necessary limits.”

— Jonathan Gaston-Falk
Staff attorney at the Student Press Law Center (SPLC)

The incident caused the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to address a Jan. 25 open letter to President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 that questioned the legality of Princeton’s NCO policy at the time.

“This censorship is utterly inconsistent with Princeton’s unequivocal promises that students have the right to engage in even the most challenging conversations,” the letter states.

FIRE claimed victory after Princeton announced policy changes a day after the letter was published; the University now cites two circumstances that could warrant NCOs: temporary NCOs that last until roughly the next business day may be issued while a situation is reviewed and/or adjudicated, and NCOs may also be issued as part of a penalty “if an individual has been found responsible for a disciplinary infraction,” according to the new policy.

“Better late than never,” said Alex Morey, FIRE’s director of campus rights advocacy, in an email to PAW. “Hopefully this signals Princeton is taking all free speech matters more seriously this year.”

Jonathan Gaston-Falk, staff attorney at the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), said in an email that “it is unfortunate that it took the censorship of a student journalist for the University to revise this policy, but the new version is a manageable policy that sets necessary limits.”

Orbuch said it took two months for Princeton to confirm that her NCO, which was lifted in February, did not prevent her from conducting her regular journalistic duties with The Princeton Tory. “Given the policy change, the University should have done the right thing and removed my NCO, yet it only did so after I pressed for its removal,” she said.

Hotchkiss clarified that “no communication and no contact orders at Princeton do not curtail journalistic activity. Even if one is subject to such an order, referring to or reporting about someone in a journalistic forum would not generally be prohibited.”

At other colleges such as Harvard and Columbia, pro-Palestinian protesters have faced doxxing attempts after participating in public events related to the Israel-Hamas war, leading some to take extra precautions like wearing a face mask.

Jasmine McNealy, an associate professor in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, extensively studied doxxing in her research on emerging media technology.

McNealy said that harm and potential harm to those identified in an article should be “a consideration with regard to reporting. … Looking at the context of the situation, the heatedness of the background, that needs to be taken into account when journalists are publishing information.”

McNealy also noted that it’s unusual for restraining orders to be granted against mainstream news media conducting work in the normal course of their job.

Princeton previously changed its NCO policy in 2022 after Tory reporter Danielle Shapiro ’25 received an NCO while contacting sources for an article about a pro-Palestinian protest. Shapiro wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed condemning Princeton’s policy, and FIRE openly expressed concern. At the time, Hotchkiss told PAW the changes meant that community members would have to communicate a desire in writing to cease contact before an NCO could be granted, but FIRE and the ADL’s recent open letter claimed this did not happen in Orbuch’s case. That requirement is no longer mentioned in Princeton’s policies.