Won’t act if students hold Osama event: Princeton University President

“We at Princeton believe that it is a fundamental advantage for a university to be able to tolerate even offensive kinds of speech...,” he said.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi | Updated: March 17, 2016 7:40 am
main “We at Princeton believe that it is a fundamental advantage for a university to be able to tolerate even offensive kinds of speech…,” Christopher said. (Source: Princeton)

Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu may feel that no American university would allow students to commemorate Osama bin Laden on campus the way Afzal Guru’s death was marked in JNU, but Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber begs to differ. “We would and should tolerate that. It would be very disruptive. People would be very angry about the statement. But we would not discipline somebody for making statements of that nature,” Eisgruber told The Indian Express.

“We at Princeton believe that it is a fundamental advantage for a university to be able to tolerate even offensive kinds of speech and to respond to bad arguments when they are made with more speech rather than with disciplinary actions,” he said. Princeton University is one of the eight Ivy League educational institutions in the United States and has produced 41 Nobel laureates, including economist Angus Deaton and physicist Arthur McDonald who won the prize last year.

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Last month, while alluding to US Ambassador Richard Verma’s remark on “free speech” being “the hallmark of democracy both in India and the US”, Naidu, without taking names, had hit back in Parliament asking if the US would “tolerate” any campus meeting on its soil to mark the “Osama bin Laden martyrdom anniversary”. Naidu had said this in the context of alleged anti-national slogans being raised during an event in JNU on February 9.

Asked if he agreed with Naidu’s assumption, Eisgruber said, “We would permit that (event) and there would be no disciplinary action of any kind against those students. That’s unambiguous. It could be very offensive. I might be called upon depending on what the students said or did. Under some circumstances, I might have to speak out and indicate my disagreement as the President (of Princeton) and say that what the students were expressing was not consistent with the views of the university. I expect in the circumstances you are describing, there would be a number of people who would call on me to take action. I get people writing to me saying you must discipline a speaker. We don’t do it even when the views are very offensive.”

“We think that the university, as we conceive at Princeton, is founded on the idea that overall you are better off letting offensive ideas be stated even when they are very offensive. And responding to them and letting truth come out of the discussion rather than stepping in and censoring speech in one way or another,” he said.

Eisgruber is a noted constitutional scholar in the US and was elected as Princeton’s President in April 2013. Apart from writing books and articles on constitutional issues, he has also testified several times before legislative bodies in America on the issue of religious freedom. He is currently visiting India to connect with Princeton alumni and to explore future collaborative research opportunities with Indian institutions.

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  1. J
    Jai Kumar
    Mar 17, 2016 at 10:17 am
    Just to Clarify they can hold an event for Osama. But will they chant . Osama we are ashamed your killers are alive, praise those who downed the Twin towers, and war will continue until the flag of Isis flies over the White House. Let them try that and see how ordinary students behave. If there is any confusion still please watch the video of what happened in American streets the day Osama was killed. There is a context to every statement the author has forgotten that and incidentally our democracy is not mature enough to tolerate the burning if it's own flag.
    1. B
      Mar 17, 2016 at 4:24 am
      But the fact of the matter is - it has not happened at Princeton. Least likely that it will happen in Princeton. Further remote that it happens at the instigation of foreign elements. If it happens then America will not tolerate. Talking is easy. Marxist elements from western universities, Christian missionaries and foreign terrorists are all trying to break India. A young democratic country that has come out of 300 years of colonial barbarism can't afford to tolerate that.
      1. S
        Mar 17, 2016 at 6:58 am
        Prof. Eisgruber is not being truthful. Will they permit an anti-jewish or pro-Hezbollah talk on their campus ? The influential Jewish alumni will ensure that some heads roll if that happens, and rightfully so. US campuses have gone through McCarthy-ism in 50's and readers can look-up wiki on what madness happened then. Another point, US has matured as a democracy , and, India is still trying to find her feet with immature insutions. Maybe in 2047, we can be compared to US ...
        1. D
          Ding Dong
          Mar 17, 2016 at 9:18 am
          And it took this so long to respond. Ofcourse he had to get clearances from everyone in the food chain. Just one questionwhy do white policemen shoot unarmed young blackmen in his beloved US of A. Has he been ever concerned or chose to be blinketed? If he was concerned what has he done about it so far or is he a hypocrite? Can some journalist ask him the above!
          1. J
            Mar 17, 2016 at 11:13 pm
            Strangely enough some of these universities didn't tolerate Modi's speech that was going to be delivered over satellite. So much for free speech
            1. H
              Mar 17, 2016 at 7:47 am
              Being ok with holding Osama event is not equal to chanting something like 'Osama, we will fulfill your unfinished dream of destroying America', ' we will fight until we destroy America' etc.. Making provocative speeches/chants is different from discussing beliefs or agreeing with an ideology. Belief/thoughts- fine, provocation- not ok
              1. I
                IML sood
                Mar 17, 2016 at 7:52 am
                Why and why IE is going I gutter like other media houses to to highlight a small news that too from a small university head having different view that Indian Govt as a bold heading.Their is dearth of pressitute so led by NDTV and perhaps in this compeion every media house including IE now wants to be champion to be the main Govt baiters.The readers can best judge.
                1. I
                  Mar 17, 2016 at 4:28 am
                  Try it Mr Princeton, there r more than 300 million guns in USA and someone is more likely to take the law into their own hands. An irresponsible hypothetical hyperbolic statement. Talk is cheap
                  1. K
                    Krishna Thota
                    Mar 17, 2016 at 10:35 am
                    There is a thing called "First amendment" that guarantees a citizen of America can say what ever rubbish he wants. Legally he is protected therefore he can't act !!! So don't need to act as BIG MAN dumb
                    1. M
                      Mar 17, 2016 at 1:46 am
                      Real student won't have time to hold such discussion. It's only when there are fake students living at tax payers expense doing this for time p and for some k i c k s in their otherwise dull life! These "scholars" won't even p first year at the iniversity in Princiton and will be k I C k e d out much before they Become "scholars"!
                      1. N
                        Mar 17, 2016 at 1:37 am
                        Don't know about Princeton but many university students don't let conservative speak on the campus. I am sure if you look hard you would find the same at Princeton University.
                        1. S
                          Mar 19, 2016 at 12:59 am
                          What a rubbish thing to say.. I dare anyone in any university to say in insha Allah insha Allah. . We will break and separate America in pieces. Author is not practical and pragmatic. He's sounding innocent or clever. I'll only question the intent of Indian Express in interviewing Eisgruber.
                          1. P
                            Professor Om
                            Mar 17, 2016 at 7:27 am
                            I have very well known Princeton University,one well known Insute of Advanced study where Indian birth Professor Harish Chandra was working and fortunately,I discussed with Professor Harish chandra in 1971-72 visit to Delhi University about our mutual research problems.Since then we were very close to each other.When Professor Laurent Schwartz had communicated my paper with J.L.Lavoine(Lavoine andMisra) in C.R.Acad.Sci.Paris in 1974,I sent copy to Prof.Chandra and asked him to visit Princeton.A well known Physicist Professor Harish Chandra recommended my name but it was turned down due to Professor Schwartz work.Professor Harish Chandra suggested to visit TIFR,Bombay(I did) then suggested to work in India rather to USA,I thanked to him for his right advice.Can any American Scientist be able to tell without using Schwartz work along with his group work any burning problems of present planet can be solved?In USA,not a single scientist took birth to whom name can be in the list of famous scientist like Newton,Schwartz,Leibniz etc?Yes,A Logician Professor Alonzo Church took birth in Washington in 1903 whose logic provides wrong science since 17th century to date as Non-Church Logic and Church Logic as Schwartz Distribution andIts Value About A Point can provide correct and right science as stated above.Accordingly,do not worry about Prof.Eisgruber nonacademic statement about JNU?Thank you very much Union minister Mr Naidu to your observations about USA.
                            1. R
                              Mar 17, 2016 at 10:17 am
                              There is a lot of intellectual difference in the indian society and American society. The point however is not whether a discussionevent on Osama or Afzal needs to held or not. The point is "Can you chant slogans about America or india ki barbadi" in those events. I say NO. The freedom of speech is not absolute and is meant for Pseudo intellectuals and hey I am not a Modi bakth
                              1. S
                                Mar 17, 2016 at 1:25 am
                                Thats a hallow statement. G standing is possible in a hupothrtical situation Isnt this the country where people are profiled by their names and sharukh was frisked because of his last name.
                                1. S
                                  Sanjiv Mathur
                                  Mar 17, 2016 at 11:55 pm
                                  Agree.Freedom of speech of an individual and group must be protected at all cost.And by allowing such viewsto be expressed and defeated through logic and more truthful arguments is a better way of handling dissent .Allowing critique and dissent is both democratic and inherent to intellectual pedagogy.
                                  1. S
                                    Mar 17, 2016 at 8:08 am
                                    So what...Princeton should continue with their thoughts. Why India should bother. Mr. Naidu asked this to all univercities by feeling that people of US mean what they say but this person from Princeton is not Walk the talk guy. Ignor Him....
                                    1. U
                                      Usman bhatti
                                      Mar 18, 2016 at 3:50 pm
                                      This is real democracy.
                                      1. V
                                        Mar 17, 2016 at 8:25 am
                                        You need to have understanding and tolerance towards adverse point of view,
                                        1. Z
                                          Mar 17, 2016 at 7:57 am
                                          Obama does not know that during Mahatma hi's time the most terrifying outbreak of sectarian violence took place as India was parioned. Britian exited without protecting India.
                                          1. Z
                                            Mar 17, 2016 at 7:54 am
                                            This story is so lacking in merit that it can be termed m o r o n i c. --President Eisgruber has his problems with students at Princeton and their sense of history with reference to Woodrow Wilson. Similarly, India has to deal with its problems in light of issues that India faces from a bunch of misguided students or student groups who have been give tremendous opportunities. -------JNU students like Princeton students are much more privileged than the rest of the society and they choose to misuse it.
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