Remarks to the CPUC about criticism of higher education in the U.S. Congress

Dec. 12, 2023

During a meeting yesterday of the Council of the Princeton University Community, I briefly addressed the tumultuous hearings in Congress last week, which unfortunately have led to questions about the commitment of leading U.S. research universities to act forcefully in response to hypothetical calls for the genocide of Jews. 

“I have great confidence in this community of which we all are a part,” I told the CPUC. “I have never heard calls for genocide, or calls for murder, on this campus, and I don't expect ever to hear those calls. But let me also be clear about this: if ever there were calls for genocide or calls for murder on this campus, this University would respond forcefully under its rules in order to protect [its] values.” 

I’d like to elaborate on those brief remarks. 

Princeton’s values are clearly stated in our rules: the University “deplores expressions of hatred directed against any individual or group.” I have spoken out against antisemitism before and I do so again now, unreservedly, as I do against Islamophobia or any other bigotry.  

Calling for the genocide or murder of Jews or any group is always wrong and appalling. Punishing people for pure speech is almost always wrong. Princeton’s commitment to free speech means I do have to sometimes protect the right of people to say things that I find repugnant, hateful, and awful. 

So let me again be crystal clear: even when Princeton cannot censor speech, we can and will respond vigorously to speech that violates our values. 

In those instances in which Princeton cannot–and should not–suppress or discipline immoral speech because it is protected speech under our policies and the First Amendment, it can still respond in many ways. We can sponsor better speech, we can state our values, we can support our students. We will continue to do this, and we must do it in a way that is even-handed and fair to all viewpoints and all identities.  

I am profoundly grateful for the thoughtfulness and civility that have largely characterized the Princeton community’s response to the Israel-Hamas war. The coming days and weeks will continue to test our commitment to mutual respect. I have every confidence that the Princeton community will continue to distinguish itself as a model for serious and respectful engagement with the world’s hardest challenges.