The Volokh Conspiracy

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Academic Freedom

More on Controversial Books at Princeton

A member of Congress weighs in, and the university president speaks out


Before the start of the Fall semester, I noted that an assistant professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University was mired in a controversy over a book that she had assigned for an upcoming class. The university was receiving demands that the book be banned from the class, and in some cases that the professor be fired for good measure. The book, The Right to Maim, was characterized as antisemitic in its criticism of the Israeli military. The controversy is detailed in my post here.

The semester has now begun, and to my knowledge the class is being taught with The Right to Maim still on the syllabus. The university administration had refrained from issuing a public statement on the controversy, until now.

President Chris Eisgruber included a brief reaffirmation of the importance of academic freedom in his address to the faculty at the start of the new academic year. That statement was cast in general terms, and it can be found here.

Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer has now released his own public letter to the university "calling on them to take action in response to their universities' inclusion of antisemitic, anti-Israel, and hate-filled classroom curriculum and upcoming guest speakers," in the words of the Representative's press release.  The letter itself is a bit more nuanced and refrains from directly demanding that the university pull the book out of the classroom. The letter can be found here.

President Eisgruber has now released a public letter in response to Representative Gottheimer. In it, he observes

Princeton's commitments to inclusivity coexist with equally vigorous commitments to free speech and academic freedom. Though people today sometimes seek to drive a wedge between free speech and equality, they are both fundamental to America's constitutional tradition and they are essential to the aims of a great university. We can achieve our mission, as a polity or a university, only if people of all backgrounds feel welcome, respected, and free to express their opinions. At Princeton, and at other great colleges and universities, we promote inclusivity and belonging in many ways, but never by censoring speech, syllabi, or courses.

The full letter can be found here. It is good to see the university standing up to the censors in this matter.