A Message from VP Calhoun about free expression on campus

April 24, 2024

Dear students,

I hope this message finds you well as our campus moves toward the end of the academic year. You may be aware that there have been significant disruptions on some university campuses in recent days. Those disruptions and their aftermath have distressed campus communities, harmed students, and hindered the ability of the institutions to fulfill their educational missions. Against that backdrop, I write to ask for your help in ensuring that we can continue to balance our robust commitment to free expression with our obligation to provide a welcoming and safe environment for all students and for other members of our community.

The University’s Statement on Free Expression states: “Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.” That guarantee extends to protests and demonstrations, provided they do not involve genuine threats, harassment, or conduct that impedes the right of others to be heard, violates the law, or disrupts essential operations.

I am proud of what we have accomplished together during this academic year despite the challenges and discord that have enveloped our society. Our campus has hosted many orderly protests, rallies, marches, and other events where our students, faculty, and staff have made their voices heard on issues that often sharply divide Princetonians. Our free speech facilitators have attended more than 75 such events this academic year to ensure the free-speech rights of all are respected. The Princeton University community has distinguished itself through robust and vibrant debate, civility, and respect for others.

Please work with us to ensure that this track record extends through Commencement and beyond. At Princeton, we only regulate expression in viewpoint-neutral and limited ways—such as when necessary to ensure the safety of our community or to prevent disruption to ordinary activities of the University. We want to be able to continue to support your right to make your voices heard in a safe and respectful way.

In addition to disrupting University operations, some types of protest actions (including occupying or blocking access to buildings, establishing outdoor encampments and sleeping in any campus outdoor space) are inherently unsafe for both those involved and for bystanders, and they increase the potential for escalation and confrontation. They are also inconsistent with the University’s mission and its legal obligation to provide a safe environment for all students and employees.

For those reasons, among others, our policies explicitly prohibit such conduct, and I want to be 2 of 2 sure you understand that we will act promptly in order to address it. Any individual involved in an encampment, occupation, or other unlawful disruptive conduct who refuses to stop after a warning will be arrested and immediately barred from campus. For students, such exclusion from campus would jeopardize their ability to complete the semester. In addition, members of our community would face a disciplinary process (for students this could lead to suspension, delay of a diploma, or expulsion).

Again, I hope that you will continue to exercise your right to make your voices heard as you have throughout the course of this difficult year — with civility, respect, and care for the interests and safety of all members of our community.

If you have questions about the University’s approach to these issues, I encourage you to reach out to a member of the campus life team and review the Protests and Free Expression page on the ODUS website.

W. Rochelle Calhoun
Vice President for Campus Life