It took some chutzpah for Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber on Tuesday to scold the Republican Party for suppressing campus speech.
Quoting a "queer" University of Florida student, Eisgruber, in a commencement address that would have fit right in at a Democratic political rally, warned that it is becoming harder for students and professors to speak their minds about controversial issues. Not because of the campus censors on the left, of course, but due to red state laws that prohibit either "discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity" or "teaching disfavored views about race, racism, and American history." In other Republican-controlled hellholes, he said, lawmakers seek to "abolish tenure, thereby enabling politicians to control what professors can teach or publish."
Eisgruber and Princeton, of course, made headlines last May when the school dismissed a star classics professor, Joshua Katz, who had been a vocal critic of the school’s racial politics. The reason given for the ouster—Katz’s consensual affair with a former student decades earlier—was widely seen as pretextual, and pundits accused Princeton of retaliating against a tenured faculty member for political speech.
Eisgruber had publicly condemned an essay Katz wrote in 2020 attacking the university’s campus activists. And Princeton had included the professor on a list of racists—presented to freshmen at a mandatory orientation session—who’d allegedly harmed the school’s good name.
That history was one of many ironies in a tone-deaf speech. Set aside Eisgruber’s facile distortion of laws like Florida’s, which bar public school instruction on gender identity. It takes a special kind of blindness, hypocrisy, and sheer partisan animus to conclude in this day and age that Republicans are the biggest threat to free expression on college campuses.
A recent survey of Princeton seniors found that just 3 percent of "leftist" students are afraid to share their views, compared with 64 percent of those who identify as "very" conservative. At Ohio State, 45 percent of conservative students say they self-censor "several times a month" while just 16 percent of liberals say the same.
You wouldn’t know it from Eisgruber’s speech. It is "wrong," he told Princeton’s 276th class, to frame "diversity and inclusivity" as threats to academic freedom. When you hear the enlightened tell you there are no trade offs or tough choices to be made, run.
In fact, Princeton’s own free speech policies make nearly the opposite point: "Concerns about civility and mutual respect," they say, "can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable." It’s an admirable ideal that perished long ago in Princeton. Eisgruber’s address was an embarrassing epitaph. RIP.