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Letter to the Editor: Tired tropes add nothing new to campus free speech discourse

A view of a stone arch. The arch, surrounding trees, and sky are reflected in a puddle on the ground.
Blair Arch. 
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

To the Editor:

On Sept. 17, The Daily Princetonian published an article by Aidan Gouley ’27 entitled “Princetonians must invest in the marketplace of ideas.” The author calls on students to “situat[e] free expression in a liberal context,” claiming that “the debate on free expression at Princeton has been co-opted by campus conservatives” while slandering principled and nonpartisan free speech advocacy as “toxic and polarizing.”

Gouley’s allegation that conservative students have “co-opted” the free speech debate is an oft-regurgitated and thoroughly debunked trope. Articles leveling the same meritless argument have a lengthy history of appearing in the pages of this publication — and have been amply refuted. Gouley calls on students “to create an environment of learning for all in the natural exchange of individual ideas and experiences that both includes and simultaneously transcends the political.” But absentminded complaining about the co-option of the free speech issue by conservative students — the so-called “ideologues” making “overbroad claims about the ideological slant of the University” — does not help “bridge the political divide,” nor does it promote the free exchange of ideas. 

Gouley’s assertion that “Princeton hardly feels like an institution where free speech is directly under attack” betrays a painful lack of awareness of the real problems facing our University. Frequent breaches of institutional neutrality by ideology-driven administrators, weaponized ‘no-communication’ orders and ‘bias-reporting’ systems that encourage speech-policing (while inflaming ideological biases on campus), and university leaders keen to harangue skeptics of modern secular progressivism as the real enemies of free speech are just a sampling of the many issues further entrenching a campus culture of feeble discourse. These are also among the many reasons why the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression ranked Princeton in the bottom quarter of 248 surveyed universities this year (and fairly so, Gouley’s shrugging off of the survey notwithstanding).

As a newly-matriculated freshman, it is plausible that Gouley lacks familiarity with the culture of self-censorship and ideological conformity that Marcusian campus activists have been successful in cultivating among our student body. This campus climate — where students’ political leanings largely determine whether they feel comfortable expressing themselves — is what is truly “toxic and polarizing.” Honest and thoughtful as we hope him to be, Gouley will soon realize that the toxicity he so fears comes not from a small, outnumbered minority of conservative students — but instead from the proselytizers of the dogmas and doctrines of progressive campus orthodoxy.

Matthew Wilson is a senior in the Department of Politics and a communications fellow with Princetonians for Free Speech. Alba Bajri is a junior in the Department of Politics and the president of Princeton’s Federalist Society student chapter. They can be reached at and, respectively.