President Eisgruber addressed concerns about the recent controversy regarding anthropology professor Lawrence Rosen, Honor Code reform, and DACA students at a Feb. 12 meeting for the Council of the Princeton University Community.
At the town hall, which took place in Friend Center 101, Eisgruber made a few opening remarks before introducing Carolyn Ainslie, Vice President for Finance and CPUC Priorities Committee Treasurer, to speak about the University’s budget. After Ainslie’s presentation, Eisgruber discussed the for campus development before opening a Q&A period.
“Part of what we have the capacity to do at a place like Princeton and part of what we must do is continue to focus on our defining goals,” Eisgruber said. “That means producing teaching and research of unsurpassed quality that make a difference for the better and continuing to stress the importance both of free speech and of inclusivity on our campuses.”
Eisgruber addressed questions raised from the audience about the recent controversy over Rosen’s of the word “n****r” in his lecture, prompting several students to leave the classroom. Eisgruber said he respected Rosen’s decision to use the word, citing the importance of having conversations where people feel “uncomfortable.”
“I think it’s very important for our culture to have academic freedom that allows people to have pedagogical choices on how to teach difficult subjects,” Eisgruber said. “I respect Professor Rosen’s decision about how to teach the subject in the way that he did by being explicit and using very difficult words.”
In his answers to audience questions, Eisgruber further emphasized the goal he had stated throughout the town hall: to show that free speech and inclusivity on campus are not exclusive and are, in fact, “mutually supportive” of one another.
“You can certainly define them in ways that put them in conflict with one another, but I think when we’re looking at free speech or inclusivity we have to think hard about what are the right ways to understand those values and how do those values matter to our community,” Eisgruber said. “I think the conflict starts to arise if you believe that what inclusivity demands is some sort of censorship of things that cause people offense or that are important to difficult arguments that need to take place in classrooms. I don’t believe that’s the case.”
Eisgruber referenced the Princeton and Slavery Project as an event on campus that both raised difficult questions and “affirmed diverse perspectives at the University.”
“I think that’s the right way to promote inclusivity,” Eisgruber said. “For me inclusivity isn’t about protecting people from offense. Inclusivity is about creating an environment where people from all perspectives are capable and have the opportunity and support they need to be able to speak up in conversations.”
Rosen announced shortly before the meeting that he had the decision to cancel his class. When asked whether or not he supported Rosen’s decision, Eisgruber said he supported Rosen’s “freedom to make a judgement under difficult circumstances about how he wants to go forward.”
“I both believe the academic freedom is important to make the pedagogical decision and I respect the pedagogical decision that he made, although I also appreciate that it’s a controversial one and I understand why it’s a controversial one,” Eisgruber said.
As a part of his mission to promote both inclusivity and free speech on campus, Eisgruber cited an announcement he had made in the State of the University : the Pre-read book for the Class of 2022 will be “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech” by politics professor Keith Whittington.
“[Whittington] sets out there an argument both about the purposes of the universities and about why universities must support truth seeking and being faithful to that, and the Millian argument . . . about how universities should execute that task,” Eisgruber said.
Additionally, Eisgruber received other questions about four pieces of referenda designed to reform the Honor Constitution, three of which were recently by the University. Several students asked what the timeline for deliberation was and what the decision meant for students’ ability to be heard by the University.
“These are significantly serious issues, first of all they require the faculty’s involvement in them and then secondly they depend upon the kind of deliberation that is now taking place in this debate,” Eisgruber said.
When asked for a timeline, Eisgruber explained that there are currently two committees with jurisdiction over the issue: the permanent Committee on Examinations and Standing and a special joint committee of faculty and students. According to Eisgruber, the latter committee plans on sharing recommendations with the former committee in March. The special joint-committee will also share recommendations with the CPUC.
When the Committee on Examinations and Standing receives the recommendations, they will report the information they find necessary for a faculty vote in one of their later meetings in the spring.
“In my view this is the right way to be going about reforms of this magnitude that were contemplated by the referendum,” Eisgruber said. “Maybe the ultimate reforms have a different shape or character that depends on the deliberations of this committee.”
Another audience member asked Eisgruber for an update on activity with DACA students. Eisgruber said that the University was waiting on the federal government for a solution. In the meantime, it is providing support through the Davis International Center for individual students as well as litigating on behalf of the University’s DACA students, partnering with Microsoft to sue the U.S. government.
“We’re still waiting on a legislative solution, and we want that legislative solution to be there,” Eisgruber said. “It’s frustrating because this is something where frankly a majority of both parties and the President will say that they recognize the strong case for assisting the Dreamers but then they get held hostage by political goals on either side.”
“We are dependent on the inflow of talented people who want to be a part of this community into our staff, our undergraduate student body, our graduate student body, our faculty, and our research staffs,” Eisgruber said. “One of the things that we’re going to be looking to do over the months ahead is to become a stronger voice not only on DACA but on a broader range of immigration issues that we think are really critical to higher education and what we do here at Princeton.”