Re: The Sept. 13 President’s Page, “Petitions, Divestment, and the Freedom to Think Otherwise”: While I agree with President Eisgruber that Princeton and its president should take time for sustained critical reflection on weighty matters, and avoid hasty decisions or actions even in the face of pressure or controversy, I cannot agree with his argument that doing so nearly always requires both institutional silence on the issues of the day, and institutional inaction that by default protects the status quo.
When members of the University community raise ethically salient challenges to investments in private prisons, guns, or other politically charged commodities, they deserve a sincere and engaged response. President Eisgruber frets that avoiding such investments might “inappropriately use investment policy to advance a political cause.” Yet his concern is fundamentally misguided, in that it mistakes the nature of political neutrality. Declining to act, thereby leaving in place the current acceptance of such investments, is just as political as explicitly backing change. Maintaining silence and extending tacit approval of existing policy are political acts. Critical scrutiny does not inherently require accepting any particular claim, but neither can it mean an inherent bias toward rejecting it.
Princeton University must be a place that insists on free speech and robust debate, just as our president urges. Free speech, however, cannot possibly be fostered by presidential or institutional silence. In his column, President Eisgruber speaks out in defense of silence, claiming that taking a stand risks being tantamount to dogmatism. I think otherwise.