The Princeton Open Campus Coalition (POCC), the Princeton Federalist Society, and the Princeton Cliosophic Party hosted a panel of three academic freedom advocates for an event titled “Mob Rule: The Illiberal Left’s Threat to Campus Discourse” at the Senate Whig House March 24.
The panel was moderated by POCC co-founder and senior research assistant at the James Madison Program Solveig Gold ’17 and included three panelists: former Portland State University assistant professor of philosophy Peter Boghossian, Ilya Shapiro ’99 and Samantha Harris ’99.
Harris is an attorney who frequently handles academic freedom and free speech cases in universities. She spent 15 years at Foundation for Individual Rights in Education before starting his own business.
In 2018, Boghossian, with two other researchers, wrote 20 bogus articles using the language of contemporary social theories in areas such as queer and gender studies. The papers included “Human Responses to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity in Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon” and “An Ethnography of Breast Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Male Tenacity in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant.”
By the time they went public with the hoax, seven had been accepted and seven more were still being reviewed by various journals. As a result of this project, Boghossian was subjected to a research misconduct investigation by Portland State University. He resigned of his position in 2021.
“I don’t see myself as a victim. I knew exactly what I was doing and would do it again in a heartbeat,” Boghossian said during the panel.
Shapiro, the former vice president and director of the Cato Institute, had recently been hired by the Georgetown University Law Center when he tweeted a controversial response to Biden’s vow to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court on January 26.
The tweet, which has since been deleted, wrote, “Objectively, the best choice for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog&v smart. Even Identity Politics has the advantage of being the first Asian American (Indian). But alas, it doesn’t fit into the latest hierarchy of intersectionality, so we’ll have fewer black women. Thank heaven for small favors? »
Five days later, Georgetown furloughed him. Shapiro told the panel that he was still on paid leave and that there was an “ongoing investigation to find out if [his] tweet violated University policies.
During the panel, Shapiro expressed regret for the wording of his tweet, but expressed disappointment that there was “no room for a simple wording error.” When a student pressed him about his decision to apologize, he stuck to it.
“Don’t apologize for something if you really didn’t do anything wrong. I think I did wrong. I worded it wrong,” he said.
Harris argued that their status as public intellectuals with platforms shielded them from the most serious consequences. She claimed that most people who are at the center of similar controversies aren’t as well known and don’t have the resources in place to protect them.
“The people I represent are often very different,” she said. “I have clients who have lost their homes, who have lost the ability to support themselves.”
Boghossian added that any “redemptive narrative” was “absent from critical social justice ideology.” Prior to the event, he had tweeted about posters announcing the billboard that were allegedly torn down by students.
Near the end of the panel, a student asked the panelists what they thought of the disparities in achievement between people of different races.
Shapiro said “asking that question would get you fired in a lot of places” and went on to remark that it was beyond his “area of expertise”.
“Asians in particular study more than African Americans and we know that,” Boghossian said in response to the student’s question. “The idea […] that any disparity in results is due to systemic racism is simply untrue. This is patently false.”
“I would never have answered that question if I had still been employed,” he added.
At various points during the event, panelists discussed legal issues related to academic freedom, such as whether it is legal for a professor to be fired for their statements.
Shapiro – who noted that he had filed briefs in support of same-sex marriage and a Colorado Baker’s Law don’t bake cakes for gay weddings Masterpiece Cakeshop c. Colorado Civil Rights Commission – pointed out that “the rules on how the government should treat us are different […] as individuals, businesses and organizations.
“Generally, if you’re employed by a private employer and you tweet something they don’t like, they can fire you,” Harris said. “Unless they have policies that say ‘we value our employees’ right to free speech’.”
“If you’re employed by a public university and you tweet something from your private account about a political issue, your university can’t legally fire you for it,” Harris said.
Freedom of expression is protected for incumbent public university professors as long as they are “accurate, show appropriate restraint, [show] respect for the opinions of others, and [make] every effort to indicate that they do not speak on behalf of the institution.
Private universities are private employers, and Harris said many have adopted policies that promise academic freedom for faculty. If such policies are in place, legal action could arise if a professor is fired or punished by a university for their opinions or statements.
Shapiro noted that, regarding the investigation of his Georgetown tweet, “The First Amendment doesn’t technically apply, because Georgetown is a private institution. But Georgetown has a free speech policy that applies.
He declined to speak about the administration, but said he was not considering resigning.
from Princeton University Strategies state that “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions which they find intrusive, distasteful, or even deeply offensive”, and that there are only “de small exceptions” to its commitment not to restrict freedom of expression, such as expression that violates the law.
Paige Cromley is a sophomore who writes for news, features and The Prospect for the ‘Prince’. She can be contacted at [email protected]