New group alleges free speech violations by U.
In order to encourage campus-wide conversation and protect student speech, Elan Kugelmass ’14 and Vivienne Chen ’14 are launching a new group on campus called Princetonians for Individual Rights in Education, which was approved by the Student Groups Recognition Committee on Thursday.
The group was inspired in part by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national organization that advocates for free speech on college and university campuses. Chen said she views the possibility of removing anonymity from comments on Daily Princetonian articles as an example of an action that could stifle free speech, noting that she disagreed with University President Shirley Tilghman’s Nov. 26 letter to the editor criticizing anonymity.
“Anonymity does serve some purposes in giving people space to say what they want to say,” Chen said. “And it’s not just about shirking off responsibility. It’s about the fact that some people’s identities are so stigmatized that they can’t possibly express themselves, so anonymity is a way of giving them that space,” she explained.
Though Kugelmass said the group was not yet prepared to criticize specific University policies, he did cite Article 1.2.1 of Rights, Rules and Responsibilities, which “deplores expressions of hatred against any individual or group,” as an example of restriction of freedom of speech.
FIRE, the national organization, cited this same policy in giving Princeton “a speech code rating of Red.” This designation means that, in FIRE’s view, Princeton has “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
University Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 said this argument against Article 1.2.1 is “irrelevant,” noting that the rule is directed solely at speech that constitutes abusive or harassing behavior, not simply offensive speech.
“There is no general free speech right to engage in abusive or harassing behavior,” Eisgruber said. “On the contrary, there are several laws that require educators and employers to prohibit speech that would create a hostile environment for students or employees,” he said.
Eisgruber noted that Article 1.2.1 is necessary in order to comply with Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which enumerates the right to a nonhostile work environment. He also cited Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act, which he said requires that educational institutions maintain environments in which students from groups of all kinds can “flourish.”
However, Kugelmass said PIRE hopes to work toward substantive changes in Rights, Rules and Responsibilities to allow for “absolutely unfettered speech.”
“I’m sensitive to the criticism that the University may not obviously enforce a lot of these rules, so let’s take them off the books,” Kugelmass said. “I think there are some natural ideological partners on campus in terms of this message of free speech.”
Chen said she hopes PIRE will encourage conversations among members of various groups on campus that have controversial opinions, such as LGBT groups, religious groups and political groups.
PIRE also hopes to serve as a “watchdog” on the campus adjudication process on how the University decides whether people have broken the rules, Kugelmass said. Chen said that if students on campus feels as if their rights have been infringed upon, PIRE would offer them counsel or refer them to outside legal help.
“We may really dislike your speech, but we’re gonna defend your right to say it anyway,” Kugelmass added.
Chen noted that students typically don’t consider free speech to be an issue on campus, but she noted that Tilghman’s recent letter suggesting that the ‘Prince’ prohibit anonymous commenting made the student body aware of the issue. Chen said she was “surprised” by the high level of student response to Tilghman’s letter.
“I’m excited about this,” Kugelmass said of PIRE. “I’m not angry, and I’m not trying to burn anyone’s house down. This is an opportunity for President Tilghman to stand up and say what she really believes in, for ODUS to stand up and say these things and for us to have a new conversation on campus.”