The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office of Princeton University has a message for incoming students: It wants them to participate in “tearing down” the very institution they have worked so hard to attend. And to drive this message home, the office is more than happy to tear down those who dissent from its official orthodoxy.
As members of the class of 2025 arrive on campus, they receive a mandatory injection not of a vaccine against COVID, but of indoctrination.
An official video freshmen are required to watch presents an utterly one-sided and negative picture of Princeton’s history. The video and the accompanying Web site are expensively produced. Yet slick production values do nothing to offset the tendentious slant.
The video/site includes a two-minute discourse in which classics professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta characterizes free speech as a “privilege,” rather than a right, and in which he disparages the speech of others with whom he disagrees as “masculine-ized bravado.” Padilla Peralta goes on to extol “free speech and intellectual discourse that is [sic] flexed to one specific aim, and that aim is the promotion of social justice, and an anti-racist social justice at that.”
While he is certainly entitled to his opinions, the absence of other perspectives on free speech suggests a jaundiced version of our fundamental commitment to free speech, codified in Princeton’s “Rights, Rules and Responsibilities” document.
There’s also a weird, out-of-context presentation of racist views, such as those of the 20th-century physicist William Shockley, a figure with no notable connection to Princeton.
Worst, the site singles out classics professor Joshua Katz in a manner designed to stigmatize him as racist, based on his criticism last summer of a defunct student group calling itself the Black Justice League in an article in Quillette.
While Katz had strong words for the BJL, the Web site fails to mention that he was decrying the harassment the BJL had directed against students, especially African-American students, who disagreed with its radical aims and tactics.
We don’t in any way oppose having a frank discussion about the history of our university, with its faults, yes, but also its glories. Yes, Princeton President John Witherspoon owned slaves, but he was also the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence, and he helped secure ratification of the Constitution and prevent the establishment of a national church.
Yes, there were Princeton graduates who fought and died on the side of the Confederates, but there were just as many who fought to preserve the Union. Yes, President Woodrow Wilson and his Democratic Party took deplorable actions against blacks, but Wilson, as president of the university, helped make Princeton the modern research institution it is today, at the forefront of science and mathematics.
Yes, Princeton has a checkered history in its prejudicial treatment of Catholics, Asians and Jews, even up to the present times (though curiously, the DEI presentation doesn’t mention this). But our campus was also a remarkable refuge for academics fleeing Nazism and Communism.
It may also be worth recalling that Princeton was the Alma Mater of James Madison, a man with his own weaknesses and faults but also one of the primary architects of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Princeton also granted an honorary degree to Abraham Lincoln, even as the Civil War was still raging, its final result uncertain.
A freshman orientation program should also take pride in the strong tradition of academic freedom on our campus and the richness of its intellectual life. Indeed, it is the university’s very tradition of freedom that has allowed the institution to improve itself over the centuries, building on its strengths and shedding its weaknesses.
It’s thus astonishing that even when it concerns race relations, the DEI presentation took such a nihilistic view of the enormous progress made in the last 50 years.
The only good that may come from this is that, maybe, some members of the Class of 2025 will decide to specialize in history, motivated by the desire to do a better job of exploring and explaining the past, with all its nuances and contradictions, than their university has done.