Response to Rep. Mikie Sherrill about Combating Antisemitism on Campus

Dec. 13, 2023

The Honorable Mikie Sherrill

United States House of Representatives

1427 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515


Dear Representative Sherrill:

Thank you for your letter of December 11.  Like you, I am appalled by the rise in anti‑Semitism and Islamophobia in the world, in our country, and on college campuses.  Princeton University deplores any expression of hatred directed at any individual or group. We vigorously support the ability of students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds to thrive on our campus.  I welcome this opportunity to describe our efforts.

Your letter asks what we do to ensure that students are free from bullying and harassment on our campus.  Our approach has three elements.  First, we have clearly specified procedures by which students may file a harassment complaint, and we take every complaint seriously.  Second, we provide advisers and resources that can supplement, or serve as an alternative to, the formal complaint process depending on the nature of the incident or a student’s preferences.  We have compiled many of these resources on a publicly available webpage:

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Princeton works continuously to promote a culture that encourages mutual respect and free inquiry.  These efforts begin from the moment students arrive on campus.  Their initial orientation includes modules on both free speech and diversity.  The free speech session emphasizes not only the University’s broad protection for academic freedom and debate, but also the responsibility of community members to listen carefully and speak respectfully to one another.

We reinforce those messages in a myriad of ways, including through presidential statements reaffirming the University’s values.  I have spoken out against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia throughout my presidency.[1]  Early in my presidency, I signaled the importance of Princeton’s relationship to Israel by travelling there to meet with university leaders and host a dinner for Israeli alumni.[2]  When the American government enacted a travel ban against students from Muslim countries, I organized a letter from university presidents in opposition to the ban and publicly expressed my support for the University’s Muslim community.[3]  And when Hamas launched its abominable terrorist acts against Israel on October 7, I issued an unequivocal condemnation of it, adding that Hamas’s “cruel and inhumane attack has provoked a bloody war that has already claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis and will tragically take many more as it continues.”[4]

More important than my own efforts are the mentoring relationships that people throughout this campus build day in and day out, in ordinary times and in times of crisis.  I invite you to consider, for example, initiatives like the Rose Castle Society, which brings together student activists (including pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian student activists) to learn how people of opposing viewpoints can interact productively across differences:  I invite you to consider, as another example, the dialogue, forged from a multi‑year friendship that began on our campus, between two public policy deans, one of whom is Palestinian-American and the other of whom is a former Israeli intelligence officer:  Princeton and other universities take pride in cultivating these civil and substantive conversations, conversations that bridge differences in a way that is rare in our fractious society.

Your letter also asks how we address the harms of hate speech while promoting free speech.  At Princeton, we have adopted the Chicago Principles on Free Speech, which largely track the broad protections of the First Amendment.  We believe, with Justice Louis Brandeis, that whenever possible the remedy for bad speech should be better speech, not censorship.[5]

We emphasize to students and to our community that, even under this broad set of rights, harassment is impermissible.  We provide guidance about the relationship between Princeton’s free expression policy, its anti-harassment policy, and the University’s broader inclusivity goals:  We educate our community about free speech rights, civility, and the purposes served by free expression:  And, as already noted, we work continuously to promote and model a culture of civil discussion about sensitive and important topics.

Of course, like anyone who is fully committed to First Amendment principles, I must sometimes protect speech that I find repugnant, hateful, or awful.  When Princeton cannot—and should not—suppress or discipline immoral speech because it is protected under our policies and the First Amendment, the University can still respond in many ways.  We can sponsor better speech, we can state our values, and we can support our students.  We will do all these things, and we will do them in a way that is even-handed and fair to all identities and viewpoints, but we will not stoop to censorship.

You close your letter with an offer to work with us in any way to ensure that New Jersey’s universities reflect New Jersey’s values.  I appreciate that offer, and I do have one request.  Please continue to be a leader for New Jersey and the country in promoting the same kind of civility and respect in the Congress that you rightly ask universities to promote on our campuses.  The issues confronting us demand serious and thoughtful discussion, and I believe that we can and should do better than the hearing that took place last week.

Hamas’s evil attacks were another reminder, if any were necessary, that America and its allies have real enemies in this world.  If we, and the values for which we stand, are to prevail, we will need to support one another and our defining institutions.  America’s leading research universities are sources of enormous strength to this country, envied throughout the world because of the education we provide and the pathbreaking research we do.  Of course, we can always do better, and I welcome partnerships with you and others who seek in good faith to make our country and our colleges the best that they can be.

Thank you for the genuinely constructive spirit of your own letter, for your commitment to research and education, and for all that you do for New Jersey and for our country.  Please let me know if my colleagues or I can supply you with any further information.

With warmest best wishes,

Christopher L. Eisgruber





[4] Even in a  world wearied, most atrocious of terrorist acts.

[5] “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom.”  Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 377 (Brandeis concurring).