Princeton University Accused of Silencing Student Journalist in Activist Controversy

Princeton is stifling discussions and newsgathering by its student press, by permitting students who dislike certain speech to be granted no-communication or no-contact orders against other students. While no-contact protocols are important tools to keep students safe from properly defined discriminatory harassment, and threatening, intimidating, or assaultive conduct, Princeton appears to be granting these orders for any student who requests one, so long as minimal procedural prerequisites are satisfied. These orders are being issued by administrators with disciplinary authority, under threat of punishment, without a modicum of due process, and—most unconscionably—where the student-speaker is not even alleged to have violated any university policy. This practice is deeply chilling, in blatant violation of Princeton’s laudable free expression policies, and must end immediately. Princeton has issued a no-contact order against a Tory journalist who reported on a student demonstration against Israel. A Tory journalist covered a November 9 protest held by Students for Justice in Palestine. While she was recording footage of the protestors’ chants and signs, a graduate student attempted to block her camera. The graduate student followed the journalist, and remained in close physical proximity to her, despite the journalist voicing her discomfort. When the journalist reported this to an on-duty Public Safety officer, the officer informed the journalist that she was “inciting something.” Following the officer’s inaction, the graduate student continued to attempt to physically obstruct the journalist from filming, eventually pushing her and stepping on her foot. The recitation here reflects our understanding of the pertinent facts. We appreciate that you may have additional information to offer and invite you to share it with us.After the protest, the graduate student who pushed the journalist obtained a no-contact order against her. The journalist met with her Assistant Dean for Student Life to discuss the order and asked the dean whether she could publish articles written before the issuance of the no- contact order that mention the graduate student’s name. The dean later informed the journalist via email on file with author that the university “cannot determine if they would be a violation of the NCO—it is possible that some statements may be interpreted by the other student as an indirect or direct attempt to communicate. The safest course of action in terms of a possible violation of the NCO would be to refrain from writing or to be interviewed for articles that mention the name of the student with whom you have an NCO (or to retract them if that’s possible).”This is utterly inconsistent with Princeton’s unequivocal promises that students have the right to engage in even the most challenging conversations. Your Statement on Freedom of Expression, for example, declares “the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.” The Statement further notes “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” Nor can a desire for “civility and mutual respect … be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.” Likewise, Princeton’s protest policy explicitly forbids students from abusing university systems to “obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”Just last week, you observed that despite “[c]ontroversy over the war in the Middle East,” Princeton would “never” censor or discipline students unless their speech “falls under one of the enumerated expressions to [Princeton’s] free expression policy, such as those permitting the University to restrict threats of harassment.” Yet your administration continues to turn a blind eye to the use of no-contact orders to silence students who seek to express their pro-Israel ideas, simply because their peers find these ideas “heterodox, shocking, or offensive.”Princeton’s commitments to free speech are admirable—but only to the extent to which they are followed. As written, they properly align with First Amendment jurisprudence and prevailing conceptions of free speech and free press principles. Any reasonable student or student journalist reading these policies would be confident they have the right to engage in difficult discussions without worrying they will be slapped with a no-contact order, under threat of discipline. Student journalists are also promised their right to engage in dogged newsgathering, including contacting student leaders in the ordinary course of their reporting. But Princeton has betrayed its promises by allowing students to censor their peers on the basis of subjective offense. These outcomes cannot be squared with the university’s mission or purported commitments. To be clear, when properly utilized, no-contact orders are an important tool to ensure the safety of victims of physical violence, sexual misconduct, true threats, or discriminatory harassment. But Princeton is allowing students with ideological disagreements to transform no-contact orders into cudgels to silence the “lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation” that Princeton promises all students. This is at least the second time in the last two years [for details on the first time, see the full letter -EV] that a Tory student journalist has been silenced by a no-contact order at the behest of community members offended by his or her pro-Israel journalism. This systematic weaponization of no-contact orders to silence pro-Israel journalism—or any journalism—cannot stand.The post Princeton Allegedly Told Student Journalist Not to Write About Activist Who Got “No Contact” Order Against Journalist appeared first on Reason.com.