To the Editor:
In its May 2 article entitled “A decade later: a split legacy for Eisgruber,” the Daily Princetonian erred in saying that “Edward Yingling ’70 and Stuart Taylor ’70, co-founders of Princetonians for Free Speech” (PFS) argued that Eisgruber’s decision to fire then-professor Joshua Katz would “destroy Princeton’s acclaimed free speech rule” — making the free speech rule one that would protect only a small subset of the speech that the rule’s language and intent clearly do protect.
In fact, this was a Yingling-Taylor criticism not of President Eisgruber, but of a December 7, 2021 letter-ruling by Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter, which removes Rule 1.1.3’s protection from almost all instances of harassment for speech. Minter, in consultation with then-Vice President for Human Resources Lianne Sullivan-Crowley, found explicitly (and absurdly) that University harassment policy protects speakers like Katz from harassment or abuse only if it is “based on a protected characteristic” of the speaker (such as race, creed, color, or sex) despite the fact that Rule 1.1.3 does not even contain the words “protected characteristic.”
Eisgruber left the Minter letter-ruling in place, saying nothing for months about mounting criticisms by national free speech groups and others, including PFS, of his administration’s treatment of Katz — including the portrayal of Katz as a racist by Princeton administrators both on a University website in a presentation called “To Be Known and Heard” and in the 2021 freshman orientation — over an article that the latter wrote in July 2020, which very strongly criticized the Black Justice League. The Black Justice League was a group of students that was active on campus from around 2014 to 2016.
Then, on March 27, 2022, Professor of Politics Keith Whittington wrote Eisgruber a strongly worded open letter on behalf of the Academic Freedom Alliance, a diverse coalition of faculty members from across the country. Whittington’s letter said that “professors should not have to anticipate that the university administration will … place members of its faculty in the pillory as an object lesson for each class of entering students to learn where the boundaries of acceptable speech can be found.” In Eisgruber’s public response four days later, he stated that “University staff members enjoy free speech rights along with other members of our community” and refused the AFA’s request that Princeton delete (“censor”) from its official website his subordinates’ use of University resources to smear Katz as racist.
The website was shown to the Class of 2025 during its mandatory orientation. The smears remain on the website, alongside this statement: “President Eisgruber condemned the words used by Katz, stating, ‘While free speech permits students and faculty to make arguments that are bold, provocative, or even offensive, we all have an obligation to exercise that right responsibly.’” Eisgruber said that in July 2020. He also admitted that Katz’s words were protected by Princeton’s free speech rule. Katz has said publicly that Eisgruber knew then that the words used by Katz were accurate.
Eisgruber’s response to Whittington, and his similar responses to criticisms by Professor of Mathematics Sergiu Klainerman and others, plus the never-revoked Minter letter-ruling, mean that the Eisgruber administration has quietly eviscerated the free speech rule that Eisgruber claims to support.
Edward Yingling ’70 and Stuart Taylor, Jr. ’70 are co-founders of Princetonians for Free Speech.