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Response to FIRE’s letter to the editor

In their response to my column, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education continues their fight against straw men in the supposed battle over free speech in higher education. I acknowledge that I misstatedin my previous columnthe section of “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” that FIRE specifically objects to, but the fact remains that Princeton is not and will not be enforcing those speech policies in the way that FIRE believes it could. First, in practice, the University’s speech policies aren’t used as a way to restrict discussions during class or “trash-talking in an intramural sports game.” It’s patently ridiculous to claim that the University or students use the policies in that way. They don’t. With regard to FIRE’s hypothetical critique of the Black Justice League, section 2.5 of "Rights, Rules, Responsibilities" requires any disciplinary action by the University to go through an extensive, rigorous process that calls for “clear and persuasive” evidence and offers the possibility of an appeal. Even if a student were to raise the issue of the BJL, it’s incredibly unlikely that this would pass the test of being “threatening” or “intimidating,” whereas a group of white supremacist Neo-Nazis is, well, just that.

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It remains that FIRE is an inflammatory group (pardon the pun) with extremist views. As the Daily Princetonian reported, they also object to the section of "Rights, Rules, Responsibilities" dealing with sexual harassment on the grounds that it restricts free speech. I’d argue that that the definition of sexual harassment and the particular tests that have to be passed to constitute sexual harassment are pretty noncontroversial. If FIRE’s ideal world is one in which every single piece of speech would be protected, even sexual harassment, then I ask: is this really a credible voice as the organization chases after straw men in this debate?

Nicholas Wu is a Wilson School major from Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich. He can be reached at nmwu@princeton.edu.

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