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President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 looks on during a student walk-out, organized by Students for Prison Education and Reform, at the May 2019 meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community.

Photo Credit: Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

On Monday, Provost Deborah Prentice announced that the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) has dispensed with its long-standing practice of allowing the public to ask questions during its quarterly meetings. Trivial though the decision may seem, its undemocratic precedent should not be ignored.

In lieu of the open-question policy, which had been in place for longer than “anybody’s living memory,” community members must now submit their questions at least three days in advance. According to Prentice, the Council’s official rules never authorized an open question-and-answer period, but the University had permitted the practice nevertheless. 

Apparently, CPUC suffers open discourse no more.

While the prior practice fostered dialogue between administrators and members of the community, the new policy precludes any open conversation. CPUC meetings serve as a gauge for public sentiment, and by eliminating the question-and-answer session, U. administrators have removed any element of dialogue and community input from the Council’s meetings.

The new requirement will further allow members of CPUC — foremost among them, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 — to manicure, polish, and calibrate platitudes in advance. Council meetings will degenerate into PR. Worse still, there is no way to ensure that the Council will even address, much less disclose, the questions it receives and chooses not to answer. 

It is difficult not to view this decision in light of the frequent sparring between administrators and students at last year’s CPUC meetings. Members of the student-activist group Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) peppered Eisgruber with questions about the University’s refusal to remove the criminal-history box from its application. During the last meeting of the academic year, members of SPEAR staged a disruptive protest, which violated University policy. Nonetheless, the University’s subsequent response, to remove all opportunity for conversation, is both unwarranted and unproductive.

We encourage members of CPUC to reconsider their ill-disguised attempt to evade difficult questions. They should not fear the students they serve.

Board Chairs

Chris Murphy ’20

Cy Watsky ’21

Board Members

Samuel Aftel ’20

Arman Badrei ’22

Ariel Chen ’20

Rachel Kennedy ’21

Ethan Li ’22

Madeleine Marr ’21

Jonathan Ort ’21

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