It is important to know that President Eisgruber, who under the university’s rules enjoys the same free speech rights that Katz and everyone else at Princeton possesses, holds fast to his judgment that Katz was wrong and irresponsible to use the rhetoric (“terrorist organization” that “made life miserable for . . . many”) he had used. Katz continues to disagree with that judgment, citing the targeting and smearing of others, including other students, by members of the group, and contending that his own rhetoric, in context, plainly did not accuse anyone of violence.
What should these two academics do about their disagreement? What they should do is what the two of them are in fact doing. They should respect and honor each other’s right to speak his mind. They should state their positions and give their reasons. Each should engage the reasons and arguments presented by the other. They should lay the evidence supporting their positions before any and all who wish to follow the debate, and let those who are following it decide where the truth lies, who has the superior view.
So Princeton, by declining to investigate and punish speech that the university’s president himself regards as offensive and even irresponsible, passed the test. The university has honored—and thereby reaffirmed—its commitment to free speech and robust discussion. We will debate the issue dividing Professor Katz and President Eisgruber and let people decide for themselves what they think. Some will conclude that Katz’s rhetoric, though certainly strong, was justified; others will judge Eisgruber’s strong condemnation of Katz’s language warranted. Because we at Princeton are free to say what we believe, and cannot be punished for saying the “wrong” thing (or saying the “right” thing in the “wrong” way, or refusing to say things we don’t believe), the business of truth-seeking—in campus discussions, scholarship, and teaching—can go forward in the only way it can truly go forward: in freedom.
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