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Letter to the Editor: Princeton Citizen Scientists

Over the past few weeks, over 800 members of the Princeton University community, including 68 faculty members, 641 students and postdocs, and 105 researchers, lecturers and staff members, have signed a letter supporting a call for a campus-wide day of conversation and action on March 6.

This day is intended as an opportunity to put routine aside and focus our attention on learning from each other about the challenges that face us today, as well as what this means to us as a community devoted to scholarship, the use of knowledge for the common good, and the ideals of equality, diversity, freedom, democracy, and justice.


This effort is rooted firmly in the traditions of Princeton University and in the ideals of a liberal education in a democratic society. We recall the words of former University President Harold Shapiro: “universities must do all they can to ensure that students and faculty, and the society at large, wrestle with the great questions of human existence. Universities are not necessarily places to come for answers, but they are places that have an obligation to be sure that important questions are being addressed honestly, thoughtfully, and with full respect for the worth and dignity of all people. They are also places that must try as hard as they can to exhibit, by both word and deed, an exemplary commitment to ethically informed principles, and to a set of values that enables them to meet their civic responsibilities.”

To do this, President Shapiro explained, “As educators and citizens we must search continually for the right balance between constraining the state's power and enabling it to do its work. We must also educate a large cohort of thoughtful, responsible, and independently minded leaders capable of administering a democracy and heading the institutions that share power with it.” We seek to create an opportunity to contribute directly to this effort.

At a time when facts seem like they don’t matter, and polarizations across social and political lines create isolation, community dialogue is crucial, not only to identify the barriers and problems we face, but also to reimagine and organize solutions in line with the values of our institution. As an academic and international community, Princeton University has a unique opportunity to contribute to this conversation and set the tone for wider national and international discussion, asking ourselves what it means to be “In the nation's service and in the service of humanity.”

In this regard, we welcome the statement by University President Christopher Eisgruber challenging the Trump Administration’s executive order banning entry to immigrants and others from seven majority-Muslim countries and to refugees — in which Eisgruber declared that, “If left in place, the order threatens both American higher education and the defining principles of our country.” This is the kind of principled leadership Princeton must continue to show in the days ahead.

On March 6, we plan a coordinated day of town-hall style open-mic sessions and focused teach-ins, with the morning dedicated to an investigation of our nation’s problems, and the afternoon aimed at discussions of solutions to those problems. We want this campus-wide discussion to be as welcoming as possible for all members of our community. We want to take the time to listen to one another, crossing disciplinary boundaries as well as the boundaries between professors and students.

We hope that the discussions will trigger more regular long-term campus activities and commitments. In this spirit, we welcome all contributions from students, faculty and others, including participating in town hall sessions, leading teach-ins, or proposing topics and events for March 6.


Our goals are fourfold:

1. To defend the values of this University, including openness, diversity, scholarship, equality, and justice when these are under challenge.

2. To affirm the essential dignity and value of every human life, and express our determined opposition to policies that threaten human well-being, including the threat or use of nuclear weapons, the undoing of climate agreements and environmental protections, and the oppression, discrimination and exclusion of people on the basis of nationality, race, gender, and identities.

3. To initiate a critical and continuing examination of proposed governmental policies, and to foster research and teaching designed to contribute to the public’s and government’s understanding of potential ways to address pressing environmental, social, economic, and international peace and security problems.

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4. To find ways for students and faculty to use their understanding and expertise to help citizen groups and governments at all levels develop policies that deal constructively with these problems.

We look forward to having all members of the Princeton University community joining us on March 6 for a day of knowledge and democracy in action.

Princeton Citizen Scientists & Princeton Advocates for Justice