President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 is “very proud” of University students’ commitment to free speech, he said at an event hosted on Saturday by the Princeton Progressive Law Society, .
Eisgruber, who doesn’t often speak with the student body on University affairs broadly, had a unique opportunity to speak to students on a topic of significant interest to him. Eisgruber spoke on free speech, advocating for progressives to embrace the constitutional value. In campus debates, free speech is sometimes positioned as a right-wing.
“I want to, among other things, urge progressives to embrace free speech as an ideal and as a practice and to take pride in the progressive heritage of that concept,” Eisgruber said during the presentation. “I don’t mean to say that free speech is only for progressives. I certainly don’t believe that. I regard free speech as a universal human right, as an American ideal.”
Eisgruber is a widely recognized expert on constitutional law, and previously served as a professor in the School for Public and International Affairs (SPIA).
Recently, Eisgruber defended the campus free speech climate in a letter to Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW) specifically noting the campus discourse surrounding the invitation of Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd to speak on campus. Conservatives have pushed back: in a column last week, Contributing Columnist Matthew Wilson wrote: "I, for one, think it’s patronizing for President Eisgruber to continue to (sophistically) insist that Princeton’s campus environment is a positive model for civil discourse in any way."
At the talk, Eisgruber positively compared the climate at Princeton to that of Stanford’s, which received national attention in March after students heckled and drowned out a presentation given by conservative federal appeals court judge, Kyle Duncan and a Stanford administrator encouraged the speaker to not give the remarks.
Eisgruber called the students’ actions “disgraceful.”
On April 12, James Ho, a conservative judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, spoke at Princeton as part of a panel sponsored by the Princeton chapter of the Federalist Society. Ho, a Trump-appointee, is known for refusing to hire clerks from “intolerant” left-leaning institutions. The event passed without significant protest from students.
Throughout his speech, Eisgruber stressed the importance of supporting free speech and embracing dissenting viewpoints to the progressive tradition.
“The idea that we ought not to trust authorities, officeholders or influencers with the power to censor what we can hear and discuss — that’s fundamentally important to free speech and it's fundamentally important to the progressive tradition,” Eisgruber said.
Speaking to progressives in the audience, Eisgruber said, “progressives need to insist on the importance of both free speech and inclusivity.”
Eisgruber pointed to racial equity as an example of a cause that is disadvantaged by progressives’ opposition to free speech.
“Opponents of diversity and inclusion are sometimes using outrageous speech to provoke a backlash,” Eisgruber said, recommending that those committed to equality “do our best to avoid inappropriate backlash.”
He argued that outsized negative reactions to conservative discourse are criticized by the right wing in a way designed to “make all efforts on behalf of equality or the proponents of equality seem to be hostile to free speech.”
“The opponents of diversity or inclusion are misrepresenting complex facts about campus controversies,” he said.
Following the talk, Luke Carroll ’26, president of the Princeton Progressive Law Society and one of the organizers of the event, moderated a brief Q&A.
Eisgruber began by fielding questions from Alba Bajri ’25, president of the Princeton Federalist Society, and Caroll, which took the majority of the remaining time, according to student attendees. He answered two questions from other audience members, only one of them from a student.
In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Caroll explained the inspiration for the event.
“Every other issue that we like to talk about at Progressive Law Society: gun rights, abortion, affirmative action, freedom of expression, it’s all derived at its source from freedom of speech from the First Amendment,” Caroll said. “To be able to reclaim that as a progressive ideal, not as one that’s owned by conservatives is a priority.”
He noted that Eisgruber was selected as speaker due to his scholarly focus, as well as his connection to the University.
“First and foremost, he’s one of the leading constitutional law scholars in the country,” Caroll said. “But then of course, we really wanted somebody with whom students could connect.”
The event was held in the Betts Auditorium and had about fifty student attendees.
Janny Eng is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince.’
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