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. 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
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