Eisgruber endorses Association of American Universities statement affirming value of free speech

WASHINGTON — Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber on Wednesday, April 18, joined other presidents and chancellors whose institutions are represented by the Association of American Universities in endorsing a statement affirming the value of free speech on campus.

“Robust debate and vigorous argument are essential to the research and teaching missions of America’s leading universities,” Eisgruber said. “I am pleased that the AAU has issued this strong statement expressing our shared commitment to free speech — a value that is critical for the future of higher education in our country and for democracy more broadly.”

AAU comprises 62 universities that continually advance society through education, research and discovery. The statement, developed at the group’s annual spring meeting of presidents and chancellors in Washington, says in part:

“The free and open exchange of ideas and information is fundamental to the educational mission of AAU universities. The robust discussions and debates that occur at research universities have been central to the advancement of democracy, the creation of new knowledge, the fostering of educational excellence, and the promotion of social progress.  As heads of these institutions we are unequivocally committed to preserving and honoring this proud heritage.

“While we may deem some speech to be odious, disgraceful, and antithetical to our values, our campuses are and should remain places where ideas can be expressed free of disruption, intimidation, and violence.

“We are committed to preparing our students, faculty, and staff to engage in thoughtful, non-disruptive debate. Our collective responsibility to educate our campus communities on their rights and responsibilities is of the utmost importance and one we embrace. While protecting the expression of ideas, we will also take all steps necessary to promote an inclusive and non-discriminatory learning environment, and protect our communities from those who seek to promote conflict rather than conversation, debate, and advocacy.”

The full statement is available on the AAU website.

Eisgruber, a scholar of constitutional law, has chosen “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech” by Princeton politics professor Keith Whittington as the book for the 2018-19 Pre-read. The Pre-read introduces first-year students to the intellectual life of the University by offering opportunities to engage with a book that students, faculty and staff read. “Speak Freely” was published this month by Princeton University Press.

Princeton includes a Statement on Freedom of Expression as part of University-wide regulations in its Rights, Rules, Responsibilities handbook.