Princeton University violates the Kalven Report (even though it doesn’t have one)

December 19, 2021 • 1:00 pm

The article below is from the conservative National Review, but of course if you want to find out what’s going on with colleges and universities, especially vis-à-vis free speech and academic freedom, you have to look at right-wing sources. This is not to imply that the Right doesn’t censor or suppress speech, but since most colleges, university faculty, and administrators are on the Left, as is the mainstream media, the latter tend not to cover the excesses of the former.

What’s more, the article was written by two undergraduates. Abigail Anthony is a junior studying politics and linguistics, and Myles McKnight a junior studying politics, as well as president of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition.  It’s remarkably thoughtful and well written, and should serve as a lesson for Princeton—though it won’t since the Woke Tiger Train has left the station.

What I espcially like about is thqt it mentions and urges that Princeton adhere to the tenets of the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report, which prohibits official statements from our administration, departments, or units of the university about politics, ideology, or morality. (Rare exceptions involve issues that affect the University’s functioning.) I’ve written a lot about Kalven before, as I think every university should have such principles, but I think we’re the only one in the world. Kalven was explicitly designed to promote free speech—to prevent junior faculty, students, or timid professors from self-censorship out of fear that they’ll get in trouble for violating “official” University politics.

Click on the screenshot to read:

The two undergrads apparently understand the meaning of Kalven far better than do their administrators and faculty—and better than many University of Chicago professors, whose departments have blatantly violated Kalven time after time. I’ll quote from their letter:

An academic institution committed to truth-seeking and open inquiry should foster an environment in which students feel welcome — even encouraged — to speak up on controversial issues about which reasonable people of goodwill disagree. But as Princeton students and frequent critics of the ideological orthodoxy that pervades our campus, we’ve witnessed our peers retreat from conversations, opportunities, and even friendships out of fear that their deeply held beliefs will cost them academically, socially, and professionally.

A university hinders its truth-seeking mission when it — unintentionally or otherwise — prompts students to think twice before expressing unpopular but reasonable points of view. This can occur when officials violate the basic institutional neutrality required for the university to be a home for the free marketplace of ideas. When an educational institution adopts official stances on controversial issues not directly connected to its core mission, it suggests parameters around an otherwise liberated discourse. This effect is enhanced when such pronouncements are morally tinged; in these cases, the university would appear to have decided that such parameters are morally requisite. By implication, those who defy them are morally suspect.

The “basic neutrality” ideal isn’t new. The most famous defense of the principle was offered by faculty at the University of Chicago during the height of the Vietnam War. Chicago’s Kalven Committee made the point succinctly: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.” The Kalven Report, long celebrated, is still operative at the University of Chicago. Universities everywhere should consider adopting the report’s guidance, as well as the university’s famed Free Speech Principles, which Princeton formally did in 2015.

Anthony and McKnight give several examples of the violation of “basic neutrality”, but concentrate on one at their own school: an official statement by Dean Amaney Jamal of the School of Public and International Affairs, issued after the Rittenhouse verdict.  Conveyed by email to the entire study body of her department, Jamal’s statement went like this:

[Dean Jamal decried] Kyle Rittenhouse’s not-guilty verdict. She lamented with a heavy heart the “incomprehensib[ility] . . . of a minor vigilante carrying a semi-automatic rifle across state lines, killing two people, and being declared innocent by the U.S. justice system.” Furthermore, she situated the verdict within the context of the racism embedded “without a doubt . . . in nearly every strand of the American fabric,” thus implying that defenders of a not-guilty verdict are defenders of racism.

Campus Reform gives a bit more of what Jamal said (they’ve seen the email):

“What we do know without a doubt is there are racial inequities in nearly every strand of the American fabric. Today’s verdict employs me to ask you — our current and future public servants — to investigate our policies and practices within the justice system and beyond. How can we use evidence-based research in pursuit of the public good? What role do we play, and what obligation do we have to serve?”

These are moral judgments that push an ideological line hewing to CRT (it’s similar to Kalven-violating statements of some University of Chicago Departments, which we’re trying to remove). As the title of their article notes, Dean Jamal is telling students what to think—in an official communication.  Not only that, but she’s telling them how to act. 

The authors and 60 of their fellow undergrads then wrote a letter to Princeton’s President Christopher Eisgruber, a letter that you can see here.  Here’s a short excerpt of a letter that is, in effect, a bunch of students giving a college dean and president a hard spanking on the tuchas:

. . . What motivates our letter is a concern about the implications of a University administrator, speaking in her official capacity, promulgating to an entire community of students her moral evaluation of the outcome of a highly publicized and controversial trial. Her doing so in effect places SPIA’s institutional support behind a particular position on a matter which, as it engages the interests of so many, should invite a vigorous and respectful conversation amongst students and faculty alike.

Instead, students and faculty are left to read that a Dean has adopted a definitive stance on a matter about which reasonable people of good will can and do disagree. Dean Jamal writes with a “heavy heart” as she decries the “incomprehensib[ility]” of a not-guilty verdict, labels the defendant a “minor vigilante,” and situates the alleged outrageousness of the trial’s outcome within the broader context of racial inequalities pervading “nearly every strand of the American fabric.”

Each of these features––the verdict, the alleged vigilantism, and the systemic racism claim––are the subjects of genuine debate among serious legal commentators and academics. Contrary to Dean Jamal’s forceful assessment that some of these issues––viz., the systemic racism allegation––are settled “without a doubt,” these topics occupy the debates of students, faculty, and the public at large. Though no one claims that Dean Jamal’s statement directly forces dissenting students to remain silent or to affirm what they do not believe, it is no stretch to conclude that the establishment of an institutional position tends to draw restrictive parameters around a dialogue that would be otherwise unfettered.

The reply, much to their (and my) dismay, was disingenuous:

. . .President Eisgruber responded to our complaints by denying that Dean Jamal had spoken in her official capacity. He suggested that the dean “quite clearly stated that her views about the Rittenhouse verdict were her own opinions” and that “she framed her comments in very personal terms.”

We wonder whether President Eisgruber read the same statement we did. Nowhere did Jamal clearly state that she was speaking in a personal capacity. To the contrary, she qualified her views by writing “As dean of a School of Public and International Affairs . . .” She promulgated the message on her school’s official email server. What’s more, she employed her institutional authority to summon SPIA’s resources, offering a space for affected students to “process” the outcome of the trial in the company of a counselor. Was Jamal writing as an academic or as a dean? We believe she provided a clear answer.

Pardon my French, but Eisgruber’s response is equivalent to what comes out of the south end of a bull facing north.  This certainly was an official statement in any reasonable view.  Now the dean has a right to speak for herself, though, as dean, she should be wary of doing so since it still comes off as “official”.  But she certainly does not have the right to issue such a statement as dean and send it over Princeton email to a list of Princeton students.

Thank Ceiling Cat for brave Princetonians like Anthony and McKnight, who were NOT chilled by Dean Jamal’s statement and had the guts to not just write a letter to the President, but also to publish a piece in the National Review. I don’t know their politics, but I congratulate them and wish them well. They are, after all, allies in the fight for freedom of speech. They understand that concept better than the Grand Poobahs of Princeton:

To students who frequently dissent from campus orthodoxy, statements like Jamal’s are as frustrating and alienating as they are inappropriate. All university officials — especially those at Princeton — have a duty to facilitate an environment conducive to the full realization of the institution’s truth-seeking mission. Reasonable neutrality provides a starting point for the fulfillment of that responsibility.

I have a notion to write an email to President Eisgruber, perhaps attaching a copy of the Kalven Report. . .

Dean Amaney Jamal. Photo bySameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

h/t: Robert

28 thoughts on “Princeton University violates the Kalven Report (even though it doesn’t have one)

  1. This thought popped in my head just now, and I’d like to write it here : it’s one of those thoughts that materializes while driving, or walking :

    There is a nebulous notion that everything is in some reduced sense simply individual people saying/writing/expressing things. A reduction of Maybe a philosopher came up with it, or a political pundit. Thus, everything is simply someone’s favored thinkers vs. someone else’s favored thinkers.

    If that is a major belief, then it would make sense to simply turn off the expression of some ideas, leaving only the “good” ones. Thus, the worst events in history could have been avoided, the best promoted.


    1. People typically retreat to their own politics when reacting to a new situation. In our neighborhood we recently had a dog biting incident. The dog was mightily provoked, but in the current turf war on our neighborhood Facebook group you can predict in advance what each commenter will say based on their known attitudes and politics. Facts and overarching circumstances don’t mean a damn thing to some of them.

    2. Thus, everything is simply someone’s favored thinkers vs. someone else’s favored thinkers.

      Isn’t that, in essence, the difference between “philosophy” and “science”. In one field you have expressions of belief or interest, but in the other you have criteria for evaluating the expression against an external reality.
      Which is fundamentally why “philosophy” isn’t worth more attention than religion. If, indeed, they are distinguishable.

      1. No.

        First of all, science is a branch of philosophy. Before it was called science, it was called natural philosophy and many of the greatest scientists of the early enlightenment like Newton and Galileo would have called themselves philosophers.

        Second of all, the main difference between science and most other philosophy is that, in science, we test our ideas in the real World.

        Even in other philosophy, you are supposed to listen to the arguments of your opponents and, if you disagree with them, come up with an argument to counter their idea. It’s most definitely not to try to shut them up and hound them out of their jobs.

        1. “… Newton and Galileo would have called themselves philosophers.”

          it was called “natural philosophy”

            1. Just pointing out that the word “natural” was used before “philosophy” back then, to wit :

              “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica”

              … it’s interesting, is all.

    3. If that is a major belief, then it would make sense to simply turn off the expression of some ideas, leaving only the “good” ones. Thus, the worst events in history could have been avoided, the best promoted.

      How do you tell if an idea is good or bad if you can’t listen to its advocates and detractors?

      1. I think “20/20 hindsight” lends itself to produce this delusion I describe – a sort of obvious idea that well, sure, if only someone kept _____ from ever showing up on TV, in speeches, etc., “none of this would have happened” – so why not do that from now on?

        Or, since banning books and speech is too old fashioned, why not start just keeping little words from being said – by firing those who say them?

  2. Kudos to Anthony and McKnight.

    “I have a notion to write an email to President Eisgruber, perhaps attaching a copy of the Kalven Report. . .” – sounds good, I wonder how Eisgruber will respond.

  3. At the heart of the matter, as the authors have phrased and to which I subscribe, is the vibrant discussion of issues “about which reasonable people of goodwill disagree.” Of course, there’s the rub: a shortage of reasonable people of goodwill. Instead, we have moral scolds abounding.

    1. I’m sure you meant those other guys that are the moral scolds abounding, right? 😉 In truth, most of here are moral scolds. The difference is that we want to have the discussion and they want to shut it down.

  4. A good article, with obviously reasonable requests. I don’t believe there is anything difficult to understand. It rather looks like representatives in many institutions disagree with the Kalven Report.

    I keep wondering why there is a dearth of advocacy of that position, namely that representatives of institutions should take a stance. Who decides what this stance is? How do they know they are right? How do they decide which matters require a definitive institutional position (why is it Riddenhouse, but not thousands of civilians, including children, blasted to pulp by American forces)?

    Further, I keep wondering why such positions not only seem to need no justification, but when some is given, they are frequently teeming with demonstrable falsehoods. This case is no different, both in the primary subject (Riddenhouse’s case) and then also on the meta discussion (whether the dean wrote as dean). This is typical.

    The absence of justification or even basic advocacy, and the reliance on falsehood add two more hints that this ideology is in fact hegemonial. At the same time, the US is lagging far behind developed nations in matters such as health care or the labour situation (and income equality, or “class matters”). This is how you know that either the hegemonial power is either politically worthless, or it doesn’t want improvements for hoi polloi Americans. And that is where you know that it is indeed, in the end, the pure virtue signalling everyone accused the “social justice warriors” (so-called) of from the beginning.

    1. Broadly speaking the Social Justice Warriors have ‘won’ in USA universities. They control the thought waves and the language permitted. Newspeak is the lingua academia and anything else is thoughtcrime. Why should they allow thoughtcrime to prosper?


  5. “This is not to imply that the Right doesn’t censor or suppress speech, but since most colleges, university faculty, and administrators are on the Left, as is the mainstream media, the latter tend not to cover the excesses of the former.”

    This is a potential existential crisis for the United States. The Fourth Estate is supposed to hold the government accountable, not collude with it.

    No, I don’t have the faintest idea of how to fix it.

  6. The two Princeton students’ NR piece is impressively civil, well written, and rational. The products of the administrators, in contrast and as our host points out, resemble the effluent from a bull’s rear end. This difference is not all a matter of administrese. After all, the Kalven Report, issued by a faculty committee appointed by a University president, is itself a sort of administration product. I’m afraid the difference reflects the general adoption, by academic officials conventionally described as “liberal”, of a whole verbiage of evasion and double-talk. It may well have begun when a seemingly well-meaning policy of using racial quotas or reverse discrimination was not honestly named as such, but instead labelled “affirmative action”, a meaningless evasion that could equally apply to a motor vehicles bureau ruling, a naval strategy, or a plumbing repair.

    Once the precedent was established that anything could be labelled anything, it was probably inevitable
    that similar distortions of language would follow. Before long, we were getting “diversity” as a stand-in for enforced conformity of thought, “inclusion” (at Harvard and the University of California) for exclusion of Asian-American students, and “equity” for a campaign against tests of individual accomplishment. No wonder that “woke” is now properly used to describe a set of unconscious, knee-jerk reflexes.

  7. “The two undergrads apparently understand the meaning of Kalven far better than do their administrators and faculty…”
    I think the difference (in part) also comes down to how much each side has to lose.
    A college kid could possibly lose their scholarship or be expelled (in a worst-case scenario), which would be a painful setback, but look at the other side of the equation:
    All of these invertebrate presidents and administrators we keep discussing here have (at least): a 6-figure salary, great health care and benefits, social prestige, possibly free housing or a housing stipend, paid business trips with free food and hotels, a place on a high rung of the professional ladder with the possibility of climbing further rungs, plus a golden parachute in many of their contracts. And this doesn’t even include the other side of their personal equations: I’m sure many if not most of them have families, mortgages, retirement accounts, and worries for their children’s futures, including everything from braces to which college they’ll go to and how to pay for that.
    So during all these campus kerfuffles they face a choice of 2 options: either bow down to the mob and its demands, mouth the same jargon and apologies and psychobabble about “care” and “the pain of the marginalized” that everyone else does, and survive with your life intact until the next controversy; or choice 2: stand up for that vague and amorphous thing called “Principles” (which you can’t eat and aren’t convertible currency), and then be quickly devoured by the local Red Guard and go home to your family and explain that you all have to move, cancel that vacation, and switch to community college.
    Like I said, I don’t believe this explains all of the shameful behavior and abject conformity exhibited by academia’s administrative caste (many of you are profs etc and know much better than I do), but I think it would have to be at least one significant factor.

    1. Yes, that is indeed Red Brigade style intimidation, but Jamal could have said that in her personal capacity, without awakening the ire of those Brigades.
      Therefore I suspect she actually is Red Brigade, not forced to bend.

  8. I’m happy there are students willing to fight back. The idea that Rittenhouse is a vigilante and, therefore, should be automatically guilty, without any possible disagreement, truly amazes me. Many state and city governments have been passing laws for decades whose intention seems to be to allow people to become vigilantes. That the statement comes from the dean of a prestigious university is truly appalling. Even though I dislike Rittenhouse and all that he stands for, the lack of respect for the rule of law is amazing. It all makes me very angry and sad.

    1. What disturbs me about the Rittenhouse incident is howe badly I had been mislead by the sources of “information” I had from the US. I assumed that the people he shot were all black and I accepted without question that he carried the rifle across state lines. Neither of these assertions are true.

      In retrospect, I should have realised that the fact that the media never really mentioned the race of the victims meant that they were white. I had to go digging quite hard to find out why Rittenhouse wasn’t charged with crossing a state line with his gun. The answer turned out to be that he didn’t. It wasn’t his gun.

      1. I don’t blame the media for these confusions. At first, no one knew who the victims were as the police probably kept their names and identities secret until they could sort things out. I find it hard to believe your assertion that the MSM knew their race but failed to tell us. That is always of interest these days. In fact, the media could fairly be accused of always putting race front and center even when it hardly matters at all. Race is second only to “if it bleeds it leads”.

        1. I find it hard to believe that the media didn’t know the race of the victims. Even if they keep the identity secret, the police usually release some details: “the victim was a caucasian male”.

          It’s not just the media, it’s most of the commentators I read or listen to, which reveals my biases I guess.

          This was a BLM protest. It’s natural to assume (albeit wrong) that the protestors and hence the victims were black. Had they actually been black, it would have been mentioned at every opportunity because it fits the narrative, especially after Rittenhouse was acquitted: “white man’s justice” and all that.

  9. “Dean Jamal is telling students what to think—in an official communication.” This is true. Where I depart from your commentary is that I view the Dean’s comments, as objectionable as they may be, as an exercise of free speech. There has been a lot of justified talk about students being “snowflakes” when it comes to speech that some find objectionable. I think this is yet another example of that. Any student who reacts to what this administrator said as a reason to curtail their own speech for fear of the consequences is in my opinion a “snowflake”. Any employee of the university who punishes in any way a student who speaks up should be appropriately disciplined.

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