Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in front of Nassau Hall on Nov. 2.
Frank Wojciechowski
His comments come after presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT were criticized for their responses in a congressional hearing

Princeton University “would respond forcefully under its rules” in response to calls for genocide or murder on campus, according to comments made by President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 at the most recent meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) and on the Office of the President’s website

“Let me just state for the record, if there’s any doubt about it, that calls for genocide of any people are utterly wrong, appalling, and inconsistent with the values of this institution and any leading research university,” Eisgruber said at the start of the Dec. 11 CPUC meeting. “And let me add to that — you don’t have to go as far as calls for genocide. Calls for the murder of any persons or group are utterly wrong and inconsistent with the values of Princeton University and any leading research university.” 

Despite chants of “intifada” — which is viewed by some as a call for civil uprising but seen by many others as advocating the mass murder of Jewish people — at several pro-Palestinian events on campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Israel and Gaza, Eisgruber also said he has “never heard calls for genocide or calls for murder on this campus, and I don’t expect ever to hear those calls.” 

Echoing previous statements, Eisgruber then raised the importance of freedom of speech on college campuses. 

“I also want to be clear about this: Calls for genocide are always wrong. Punishing people for their speech is almost always wrong. And we, for good reason at Princeton University and for good reason in this country, with the First Amendment, have very strong protections for free speech, and we will continue to honor those protections as well,” he said. 

Eisgruber alluded to the Dec. 6 congressional hearing in which the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and MIT faced harsh criticism — including from the White House — for failing to state that calls for genocide would violate student codes of conduct. Liz Magill resigned from her post as president of the University of Pennsylvania in the days following the hearing.  

“Some of these things, I think in ordinary circumstances, go without saying. They don’t go without saying in today’s circumstances,” Eisgruber said before moving on to the regularly scheduled meeting agenda.  

The following day, on the President’s website, Eisgruber expounded upon his remarks and included a link to Princeton’s University-Wide Conduct Regulations.  

“Princeton’s commitment to free speech means I do have to sometimes protect the right of people to say things that I find repugnant, hateful, and awful,” Eisgruber wrote. “So let me again be crystal clear: even when Princeton cannot censor speech, we can and will respond vigorously to speech that violates our values.” 

In cases where Princeton cannot “suppress or discipline” protected immoral speech, the University can still “sponsor better speech, we can state our values, [and] we can support our students” in a way that is fair for all, according to Eisgruber. 

He concluded: “I am profoundly grateful for the thoughtfulness and civility that have largely characterized the Princeton community’s response to the Israel-Hamas war. The coming days and weeks will continue to test our commitment to mutual respect. I have every confidence that the Princeton community will continue to distinguish itself as a model for serious and respectful engagement with the world’s hardest challenges.” 

Eisgruber also responded on Dec. 13 to Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) who had inquired about efforts by Princeton and other higher-education institutions in New Jersey to combat antisemitism. Eisgruber outlined the three elements the University uses to address bullying and harassment while promoting free speech. He also made a plea for Sherrill.

“You close your letter with an offer to work with us in any way to ensure that New Jersey’s universities reflect New Jersey’s values. I appreciate that offer, and I do have one request,” Eisgruber wrote. “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.”