Ivy League freshman ‘pre-read’ promotes free speech

Princeton University’s freshman “pre-read” book for the 2018-2019 school year argues in favor of free speech. 

The Ivy League school selected Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech by Keith Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton, as the scholarly book that all incoming freshmen were required to read prior to the start of the academic year.

“The free exchange of ideas is an essential value of this University, and our faculty has adopted a strong Statement on Freedom of Expression contained in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities,” Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber wrote in an email to upperclassmen obtained by Campus Reform, encouraging the senior students to read the book along with the freshmen.

“In recent years, however, some pundits and politicians have been telling a bleak story about what is happening on college campuses across the nation,” Eisgruber continued. “I believe that these caricatures do not reflect the values practiced on campuses like our own.”

[RELATED: Law school dean: Disrupting free speech event was free speech]

He claimed that Whittington’s book took a more “nuanced and accurate” approach.

“Professor Whittington’s book celebrates robust debate, and those debates extend, of course, to free speech itself.”

Eisgruber pointed students to a bibliography, which contains official statements from the university, commentary by Princeton faculty, books, academic articles, surveys, newspaper articles and op-eds, videos, and interviews on the subject of free speech.

[RELATED: Princeton holds 'F%*# Free Speech' event for Constitution Day]

Princeton has found itself at the center of several free-speech controversies. Anthropology professor Carolyn Rouse gave a speech entitled “F%*# Free Speech: An Anthropologist’s Take on Campus Speech Debates” at the school’s 2017 annual Constitution Day Lecture. Rouse argued that “the academy has never promoted free speech as a central value.”

The day before, student newspaper The Daily Princetonian dissolved its conservative-leaning editorial board. It then reconstituted its editorial board with new membership, a move the former members believed to be politically motivated.

Less than two weeks later, a student op-ed appeared in the Princetonian arguing that "when conservatives appeal to 'free speech,'" it is safe to pay no attention to them, since "they are appealing to a right that does not exist.” The piece was quickly refuted in a pair of reply op-eds, one by another student and the other by a professor of politics and international affairs.

[RELATED: Princeton op-ed: Conservatives have no right to free speech]

In February 2018, Campus Reform reported on a university poster campaign urging students to “report” each other for “problematic experiences” related to “identity.”

“The choice is not related to any specific event or events, but clearly speaks to issues being discussed across college campuses, including here at Princeton,” Princeton spokesman Michael Hotchkiss told Campus Reform, when asked whether this year’s pre-read selection was based on these or other particular free-speech incidents at the school.