In a Letter to the Editor on September 7, 2015, Luke Koppisch, Deputy Director of the Alliance Center for Independence noted that while Princeton seeks robust academic freedom, it also requires that all of its members show each other mutual respect and understanding. Koppisch went on to criticize Peter Singer, the Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics, for publishing views Koppisch likened to hate speech. He isolated Singer’s publications as endorsing non-voluntary euthanasia of severely disabled infants and the elderly.
The Board believes that the University should continue to support Professor Singer in spite of the backlash against the opinions voiced in his academic publications. Singer, the author of over a dozen books, is one of today's most well-known public intellectuals. His opinions are, at times, controversial, but that does not warrant for his resignation. The purpose of academic institutions, like Princeton, is to expose young and often dogmatic students to perspectives and beliefs that may differ markedly from their own. Professors should be able to speak freely on contentious issues without fear of retribution or censure because part of their purpose is to lead academic debate. Indeed, University faculty came together in April to affirm the notion that debate and deliberation ought not be suppressed, even if certain ideas are found by “members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral.”
Singer has introduced a controversial and robust debate on campus in his discussion of the rights of the terminally ill and infants. The protest on September 10 to condemn Singer’s views and call for his resignation is evidence that the presence of figures like him on campus is crucial to spurring academic and public discussion. Koppisch and other critics of Singer most certainly have the right to disagree with him. But seeking to bar Singer from free academic discussion is actually counterproductive to the protestors' goal of exposing what they believe to be hateful viewpoints. If Singer were fired, there would be no opportunities for students in his classes to dissect and question his views in discussions or precept. The Board believes that discussion of controversial views with those who espouse them, rather than blind censorship, is the most productive means of reaching consensus and understanding.
The Board also believes Koppisch’s criticism misses the point of Singer’s beliefs. Singer, a preference-satisfaction utilitarian and welfare ethicist, argues that healthcare is a scarce resource that must be allocated to maximize expected preferences. In a 2009 New York Times piece entitled, “Why We Must Ration Health Care,” Singer argues that rationing in the context of the elderly and severely-ill will save the lives of people with much more optimistic prognoses. He notes that “If the U.S. system spent less on expensive treatments for those who, with or without the drugs, have at most a few months to live, it would be better able to save the lives of more people who, if they get the treatment they need, might live for several decades.” We do not view this argument to be motivated by hate for the disabled or elderly. Instead, we understand Singer to be arguing from a point of respect that acknowledges that difficult decisions may require difficult, sometimes unintuitive solutions.
The Board does not take a position on the topic of healthcare rationing, but it encourages thinkers on both sides of the issue to engage with the topic in a manner that is respectful and intellectually rigorous. If Koppisch disagrees with Peter Singer, he should criticize the underpinnings of Singer’s philosophy that lead Singer to what Koppisch argues is a repugnant conclusion. In any academic debate, we should be cautious to label speech we merely disagree with as hateful. In accordance with the faculty statement in April, the Board supports a campus conducive to free academic publication and debate, bereft of censorship and personal retribution.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-In-Chief.