Upon Return to Princeton, FIRE Intern Advocates for Reform

By on September 11, 2008

2008 FIRE summer intern Michael Davidson alerts us this morning to his op-ed in today’s edition of The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University‘s student newspaper.

Mike’s opinion piece, entitled "The hidden scandal of Princeton’s speech code," alerts the Princeton community to its designation by FIRE as a red-light school. (To earn a red-light rating, a school must have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.)

In Princeton’s case, FIRE has taken issue with the school’s overbroad harassment policy. As Mike explains, "A student can be subject to University disciplinary sanctions if their ‘abusive’ behavior ‘demeans’ another because of their ‘beliefs.’" While this may not appear troublesome to many at first blush, Mike notes:

The problem is that with such a vague standard, the administration has the power to punish speech that should be allowed. For example, if I got into a heated debate and called someone a ‘stupid idiot’ for believing, or not believing, in the justice of capital punishment, I could technically be punished by the University.

Mike provides examples of FIRE cases at local and peer institutions in an effort to demonstrate that, while Princeton has a generally positive record of protecting expressive freedom, schools should, in drafting their policies, always err on the side of more student freedom, not less. Among his examples is our case at Harvard University, where the editor of a student newspaper felt forced to resign after publishing a satirical cartoon and a 2006 incident at New York University, where an Objectivist club was initially prohibited from hosting a forum on the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. After providing several of these examples, Mike wryly adds, "With these precedents of abuse at our nation’s best colleges, my faith in Princeton only comforts me so much." He closes the op-ed with a firm call for the Princeton administration to "eliminate its speech code by fully aligning Princeton’s policies with First Amendment jurisprudence to confirm that it stands behind its students and their rights."

Way to go, Mike!

Schools: Princeton University