Praising the University’s Support for Free Expression and Encouraging USG’s Political Neutrality

In the wake of the shooting in Parkland, there has been significant nationwide debate over gun reform. In response, last week, Princeton affirmed applicants’ right to peaceful protest by stating that they would not be disadvantaged for resulting disciplinary action. At the same time, many campus groups have been working to organize an on-campus protest regarding gun violence, which USG had considered endorsing. While the Board praises the University’s statement regarding applicants’ right to peaceful protest and supports student groups’ right to protest, the Board believes that for USG to take a political stance on the issue would be antithetical and destructive to its purpose as an organization.

USG exists to represent the student body as a whole, and as such, the Board believes it should function as an apolitical organization to respect the diverse set of beliefs held its by its student body. Even when student opinion overwhelmingly supports one side of a given issue, there will always be students who fall on the other side. By taking a political stance, USG could marginalize the voices of students with differing opinions and prematurely shut down debate, creating a chilling effect on the speech of students who go against the official stance. Because USG is in charge of funding student groups, an official stance could also generate concerns that only groups supporting their stance would be funded, thus discouraging dissenting groups from getting the funding they need and limiting campus discourse. Further, USG serves a unique function on campus of working with the administration on the student body’s behalf and hosting events that “foster a sense of community.” Given that political stances and events are inherently divisive, this endorsement would be inconsistent with USG’s mission. As such, the Board also opposes the creation of a Public Engagement Chair, whose job would entail, in part, political advocacy on USG’s behalf.

The Board notes that there are already a large number of political activism groups on campus advocating on behalf of issues across the political spectrum. The precedent of discussing and endorsing one political issue could put USG under pressure to discuss all relevant political issues, which would take considerable time due to the high levels of student engagement at Princeton. Given the incredible number of projects USG works to accomplish, it does not make sense for them to spend their already scarce time debating issues outside their purview, especially when these issues are already being worked on by many other student groups.

The Board has consistently defended the right to free speech and debate, and praises the University for upholding these rights in the application process by not disadvantaging students for engaging in peaceful protest. Additionally, while the Board supports the right of student groups to peacefully protest, it does not support USG endorsement of a particular protest or political cause; this would both chill student discourse and be inconsistent with USG’s stated mission. Though in this case, it appears USG has decided not to endorse the protest, there was support for endorsement by several USG members. The Board believes USG should continue to remain neutral on this topic and other political topics in the future.

The Freedom to Teach and to Learn

Controversy over Professor Lawrence Rosen’s use of the n-word in his class, since cancelled, has roiled Princeton’s campus and attracted national media attention. The facts of the case are by this point well known: Rosen, teaching his long-standing “Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography” class, repeatedly said the n-word as an example, even after initial requests to stop. The situation escalated, with students walking out of the class and confronting Rosen. A few days later, Rosen decided to cancel his class due to death threats and increased furor, although both President Eisgruber and the Head of the Anthropology Department, Professor Carolyn Rouse, had voiced their support for his academic freedom.

The Board commends Eisgruber’s and Rouse’s responses and their clear distinction between the (possibly profound) offensiveness of Rosen’s actions and his academic freedom. But the ultimate cancellation of the class sets a dangerous precedent—public pressure and threats neither ought to preclude a professor’s academic freedom nor overwhelm valuable opportunities for open public discourse.

We emphasize that we are not addressing Rosen’s use of the n-word itself, or seeking to minimize any deeply held reactions to the episode. Additionally, none of the Board was present in the class in question, so our opinion is solely based on second-hand reports.

However, as Rouse and Eisgruber argued, Rosen should have been able to continue to teach his class. Rosen is a distinguished professor who has taught this class for over a decade without incident. While this does not give him a free pass to conduct his class in all ways, it does mean that his pedagogical decisions, even if controversial, should be trusted. As Eisgruber argued, it is crucial “to have academic freedom that allows people to have pedagogical choices on how to teach difficult subjects” in order to have fruitful inquiry and discussion.

Rouse made a further point: Rosen’s class takes place over an entire semester. By “not trusting the process,” students were deprived of the ability “to argue why hate speech should or should not be protected.” It should be noted that Rouse is hardly a paradigmatic defender of free speech, to put it mildly. She led the walk-out protest of Charles Murray, and gave a lecture this fall entitled “F%*# Free Speech.” Her admirable willingness to defend Rosen shows just how central and crucial academic freedom for pedagogical decisions and subject matter is to the idea of a university.

Far from being an empty catchphrase, the Board emphasizes that academic freedom allows many classes that contain potentially offensive material to proceed. In Professor Peter Singer’s class, for instance, he presents arguments for infanticide—an act which could well provoke a visceral reaction in some students. We need not equate or even compare this example with Rosen’s use of the n-word. Both of them have the potential to offend, as do the subjects of many other class discussions. Public pressure to cancel a class because of such material sets a dangerous precedent.

Instead of instinctively shouting down debate because of offense or disagreement with pedagogical methods, a more beneficial response would have been to engage with the heated discussion, as Rouse and Eisgruber note. In fact, before Rosen felt forced to cancel the class, such a productive debate raged. Opinion piece after opinion piece appeared in the Daily Princetonian; these took various sides of the issue, but opinions were aired out civilly and logically. But pressuring Rosen to cancel his class attempts to stifle all further discussion.

Given the increased national attention to issues of race, and indeed the sudden campus attention that the controversy garnered, an open discourse on Rosen’s use of the n-word was productive and beneficial. Rosen’s class could have accomplished this, both in the confines of the classroom and outside of it. As Rouse pointed out in her letter, there are many current hot-button issues that revolve around the concept of hate speech or taboo. Had the class been allowed to continue, its aim would have been to arm students with arguments “other than ‘because it made me feel bad,’” in Rouse’s words.

The Board has emphasized the importance of academic freedom and free speech again and again. Far from being abstract concepts, here we see an instance in which the instinct to censor and dismiss offensive content has directly resulted in the stifling of discourse on a matter important to the campus. Whatever your views on Rosen’s actions, his receiving death threats and consequently feeling forced to cancel his class is nothing to be celebrated.

Praise and Recommendations for Princeton Calendar Reform

Last month, the University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Calendar Reform released a final survey to gather student opinions on proposed calendar reforms, most notably a plan to move fall exams before winter break. Additional calendar reforms include advancing the beginning of fall classes to the first week of September; creating a two-week non-credit Wintersession in January; moving spring semester up by one week; and implementing a seven-day final exam period in both semesters. The Board generally praises the proposed reformsparticularly highlighting the benefits of taking final exams before winter breakand further suggests that classes begin in the last week of August and that Wintersession be shortened to 1 week, thus allowing a two-week final exam period in both semesters.

Moving final exams to before winter break will allow more symmetry between semesters, increase academic fairness, and improve student’s mental health. Currently, Princeton’s fall semester takes place over a longer span of time than its spring semester. Additionally, fall semester breaks are more frequent and lengthy than spring semester breaks. Certain courses are taught both fall and spring semester, and some students may elect to take a course in the fall because of the additional study time. Freshman writing seminars and Woodrow Wilson School junior year task forces are assigned randomly to the fall or spring semester, and are examples of random disparities in student’s current academic experiences. Reforming the calendar would alleviate these problems, creating parity between the semesters and eliminating imbalances in course difficulty across terms. In addition, all students currently face anxiety over winter break due to the anticipation of January finals. Moving finals to before winter break would diminish this stressed period, and improve overall student mental health.

In addition to ensuring academic fairness and improving student mental health, moving finals before winter break would have several social benefits. In November and December, students are often less engaged  in their classwork because they expect to study over winter break and January. Further, students, particularly freshmen, often find their fall semester socially disruptive due to the amount of time on and off campus. A reformed calendar would allow for increased student engagement in precepts towards the end of the fall semester, and for the formation of richer friendships. In addition, Princeton’s current calendar makes it challenging for students to study abroad in the spring at universities that begin in January.

Beyond a revised final exam schedule, the proposed calendar offers many other improvements. The non-credit Wintersession gives the opportunity for interested students to learn supplemental material. Popular suggestions have already been made for short workshops in R, Python, or digital media. Further, Princeton’s new calendar would align it closer to most other American universities. While on break, students are often unable to see high school friends due to differently timed schedules. Reforming the calendar would move up each semester by one week, allowing students to maintain old friendships, and possibly travel together for spring break.

We propose one alteration to the current calendar: moving the start date of the academic calendar to the last week of August instead of early September. The proposed calendar only allows one week for final exams, thus diminishing study time for students and increasing student stress. In addition to shortening winter break to four weeks, our proposal would allow both first and second semester to continue with a much-needed two-week final exam period.

The Board, in agreement with student public opinion on the topic, recognizes the need for calendar reform and is glad to see the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations. Moving finals before winter break, creating a Wintersession, and starting the academic calendar of both semesters one week earlier are important changes with the potential to improve future Princeton students’ experiences. In addition, we propose that moving the start of classes to the end of August and making winter break four weeks rather than five would allow the University to maintain the current two-week-long final exams period, and ease student stress. The Board looks forward to seeing the definitive submission of the Ad Hoc Committee’s proposal to the Faculty Advisory Board in March, and hopes to see Princeton students benefit in years to come.

Join the Princeton Editorial Board

Last September, 12 undergraduate students, representing the majority of the members of the dissolved Daily Princetonian Editorial Board, founded a new campus organization called the Princeton Editorial Board. Since then, the Board has added three new members to our ranks and met biweekly to discuss and write joint opinion pieces about campus affairs, ranging from Lawnparties to language courses to study abroad. We weighed in on campus controversies including the Honor Code referenda, Tzipi Hotovely’s lecture, and the University’s handling of the Professor Verdú sexual misconduct case. We also interviewed in person all three candidates for USG President and endorsed current President Rachel Yee.

We determined our stances for each of these editorials through rigorous and thoughtful debate at our biweekly meetings. The Board prides itself on including students representing a broad cross-section of campus experiences and opinions. Our members include liberals and conservatives; engineers and humanities majors; athletes, debaters and singers; bicker club members, sign-in club members, and independent students; and students from all four class years. The diversity of opinions and campus experiences among our members is crucial to informing our discussions. To that end, we seek applications for new members from undergraduates of any background who are passionate about writing, open discourse, and contributing to campus dialogue. In this editorial, we will briefly explain how the Board functions on a regular basis as well as discuss the application process.

The Princeton Editorial Board meets twice a week to decide the topic of our next editorial. Members propose topics related to current campus controversies or ongoing areas for improvement at the University, so it is important that members stay informed about campus events and University policy. Once a majority of the Board agrees we are interested in writing about a particular topic, we debate it thoroughly to recommend solutions for policy issues or to articulate a stance on a controversial issue. While the Board strives to reach unanimous agreement for each of our editorials, members who disagree with a particular editorial are able to write a dissent that appears below the majority opinion. This reflects the Board’s strong commitment to open debate and viewpoint diversity. Once the Board decides its stance for an editorial, one member volunteers to be the lead writer for the piece. All members participate in editing and revising each editorial using Google Docs. Accordingly, strong writing and editing skills are a must for Board members. Completed editorials are published biweekly on our website and Facebook page.  

The process for joining the Board enables applicants to showcase their abilities to generate interesting editorial ideas and to communicate their views in-person and through writing. The written application may be found here; it is due via email to the Board’s Chair, Cole Campbell, at by 11:59pm on Wednesday, February 21. Applicants will also interview with the Board’s current members. As always, the Board will evaluate the quality of applications on the basis of how well applicants argue ideas, not the conclusions they reach. We encourage you to reach out to any of our current members if you have any questions and look forward to reading your application!  

A Call for Increased Transparency and Responsiveness from USG and Administrators

Yesterday, the Undergraduate Student Government announced that all four referenda to amend Princeton’s Honor Constitution had passed by wide margins. The election saw unprecedented turnout, with 64% of the student body voting on the referenda. This high turnout was likely driven in part by the binding nature of the referenda; amendments will now immediately be made to the Honor Constitution. This is unique in contrast with the typical USG referendum that is unbinding and generally constitutes calling for USG to investigate a matter, rather than to make immediate changes. Given this, the Board would like to offer a timely suggestion to USG and administrators concerning the procedure of typical Princeton referenda and reform.

We praise USG for frequently appealing to the student body to gauge the school’s stance on pivotal issues, but we are critical of the lethargy with which school legislators approach the implementation of referendum-approved policies. As such, the Board advocates increased transparency in the months following referenda and school reform surveys so that the student body knows the state of the proposed changes. While we acknowledge the need to coordinate with administrative and faculty partners can slow down USG’s response, the student body should still be updated on the progress of the reforms they approve. The Winter 2016 eating club demographic collection referendum and the March 2016 calendar reform survey are particularly illustrative of this troubling lack of transparency, while the Spring 2016 prison divestment referendum highlights the downsides of not being responsive to student expressions of opinion.

In the winter of 2016, the student body voted on a referendum calling upon USG to work with the Interclub Council to have eating clubs collect and release demographic information like race, gender, and academic major about its members and bickerees. The referendum passed overwhelmingly, with nearly 70% support. But a year later the motion seems to have fully dissolved; two, nearly three, rounds of bicker and sign-in have come and gone. While a committee has been appointed to consider the eating clubs, this committee will expressly not deal with the collection of eating club demographics. The student body at large has heard little about USG’s progress on this matter since last December. As Leila Clark, the referendum’s sponsor, explained in a October 2017 Prince op-ed, USG initially voiced their support for the referendum’s suggestion, but then grew frustratingly elusive in the months that followed.

In March 2016, USG partnered with the Dean of the College, the Dean of the Graduate School, and the Graduate School Government to administer a student survey regarding proposed calendar reform which would move fall finals to before winter recess. A staggering 72% of 2,580 votes supported the reform, finding that looming exams added stress to their holiday breaks. Following this, in October 2016, a University Task Force on General Education released six recommendations, including one that would move finals to before winter recess. While an Ad Hoc Committee on Calendar Reform has been working since May 2017 to implement the calendar change, the student body remains woefully uninformed about what progress has been made. The only subsequent public discussion of the Committee's work has been one report it made to USG in November. While The Daily Princetonian reported on this update, progress on change of such great interest to the student body should be reported directly and regularly to students.

Given the opaque response to past referenda, the Princeton student body has lost some of its enthusiasm for supporting reforms to its community. In the spring of 2016, for example, the student body voted on a referendum to divest from private prisons and detention corporations, which profit from incarceration and immigrant-deportation. The referendum enjoyed a overwhelming majority: 89%. But still the referendum did not pass, because only a small proportion of the student body came out to vote on it - more than the 30% of the student body that must vote on a referendum for the vote to count. Should we be surprised by the low turnout? Probably not: most referenda have no inherent power. They are simply gauges of student opinion; the power falls entirely to USG and the University administration to decide whether to act on that opinion. In theory, this is a reasonable, even necessary procedure for implementing reform. Ideally, our student and faculty leaders would approach the proposed reforms with energy and transparency, making steady progress and keeping us informed on the state of the referendums.

But as experience has shown, USG and the University administration can be slow-moving and elusive when it comes to implementing pivotal reforms that enjoy overwhelming support from the student body. What is at stake here is not individual reforms and stances on them—indeed, it is worth noting that while the Board supported the winter break calendar reform, it did not support the eating club demographic referendum—but rather the very mechanisms by which we effect change at this school. If the reforms students are collectively excited about continue to disappear in the bowels of USG and administrative bureaucracy, rarely to be discussed again, then students will become less and less engaged with school reform. As the prison divestment referendum highlighted, this will be a fatal blow to our voice as a student body. The Board, therefore, calls on USG and the University administration to be transparent and aboveboard about their progress on all reforms proven, by survey or referendum, to enjoy the popular support of the school. This means periodic updates, published benchmarks, and candid notification when reforms seem unlikely to be implemented. The Board understands that not all student-approved reforms can feasibly be implemented in practice, but the student body still deserves to be updated on any attempts, even if unsuccessful, to do so.

We accordingly cannot emphasize enough the importance of USG and administrative responsiveness to student-approved reforms, as well as transparency about the status of their response.

Rachel Glenn ‘19 and Carolyn Liziewski ‘18 recused themselves from the writing of this editorial.

Yee for President

Voting for the Undergraduate Student Government’s Winter Elections will be held between Tuesday the 12th and Thursday the 14th. Following in the tradition of the former Daily Princetonian Editorial Board, the Princeton Editorial Board has interviewed the three candidates running for USG President this year: Matt Miller ’19, Ryan Ozminkowski ’19, and Rachel Yee ’19. After carefully considering their platforms and experiences, we are endorsing Yee, with Miller as our second choice candidate. Should no candidate win a majority of the votes cast in this week’s election, a runoff election will take place from Saturday the 16th through Monday the 18th at the start of winter break.  As such, we encourage all students to have an opinion on their first and second choices for President and to be sure to vote in the runoff election should one be necessary. In making our decision to endorse Yee for President, we considered the candidates’ plans, their past experience, and their ability to represent the entire student body while effectively implementing the goals of their platform. We believe that Yee has the most promise in each of these key areas.

This is the second year that Rachel Yee is running for USG President, and the second year that the Board has endorsed her for President. Her platform reflects issues that are important at this moment on campus and impact students greatly. Yee’s platform is in large part focused on mental health. We believe her emphasis on mental health is appropriate and necessary given mental health’s importance in student life on campus. Her platform is also impressively detailed and focused in this area. Yee offers innovative solutions, proposing adding satellite CPS offices (with additional CPS staff) in residential colleges, as well as office hours for CPS in the LGBT Center, Carl A. Fields Center, Davis International Center, Jadwin, and E-Quad. Yee proposed these ideas in her previous campaign and has carried over her focus on mental health throughout the past year. Since last year’s election, she has furthered her commitment to this area, for example serving as Princeton’s Head Delegate to the Ivy Mental Health Conference and coordinating a Summer Soiree Benefit for Mental Health. Yee’s continued focus on and dedication to this matter reflect both the seriousness of the issue and the persistence of problems regarding mental health on campus. We believe Yee offers the best platform to address this pressing concern.

In addition, Yee has offered ideas and plans to revamp USG’s communications, improve freshman advising, implement a midterm feedback system for professors, establish a loan-free textbook program, better train new USG members, and improve the housing and living situation for independent students. These are good ideas that the Board would also like to see implemented on campus during a Yee presidency.

Yee moreover has the operational know-how to get the job done. In choosing a candidate for USG President, it is important to consider not only the quality of the candidate’s platform but also the candidate’s ability to accomplish the goals of his or her platform. Yee’s platform details the specific University offices with which she plans to work to accomplish her goals. She correctly does not view USG as a body that acts alone and understands the necessity of leveraging personal relationships with University staff and administrators to make changes on behalf of the student body. We are particularly impressed by the thorough “Monthly Breakdown” Yee created for the Game Plan section of her website, which details the careful thinking she has done to prepare herself for serving as USG President. This demonstrates that Yee understands the role of USG President and the time commitment necessary to do a good job for the student body. She is therefore well-positioned to implement the goals on her platform and to effect positive change for the Princeton community.

The Board was also very impressed with Matt Miller, which is why he is our second choice candidate for President. His platform exhibits perhaps the greatest breadth of all three candidates. While platforms that have such breadth often seem unfeasible to implement, Miller’s platform includes very reasonable proposals that we believe he would be able to implement if elected President. He details a plan to have a library or student center open 24 hours, which is a change the student body has often requested. Miller also proposes establishing bus services to airports from Princeton during key travel times before breaks. He would expand on USG’s existing program to offer bus services before Thanksgiving that take students to major cities in the Mid-Atlantic. This is a very popular program, and it would make sense to add airport shuttles as well and to offer this service before more breaks. Miller also advocates expanding the McGraw tutoring program to include daily language class sessions, as well as sessions for other subjects if there is enough student interest. Finally, one of Miller’s main proposals is a detailed one to host better acts for Lawnparties. He believes that selecting up-and-coming artists would improve Lawnparties and generate greater student interest in the event. These are just a few of many ideas on Miller’s platform that are both feasible to implement and would directly improve student life on campus.

In addition, Miller demonstrated that he has the attitude and dedication to represent the student body well. He is is a former student athlete who already has USG experience. Accordingly, we encourage students to consider Miller as their second choice candidate and to vote for him in the runoff election should Yee not advance to the second round of voting.  

We encourage all students to vote online in the many races and referenda starting tomorrow. We endorse Rachel Yee for President, with Matt Miller as our second choice.

Vote No on Referenda 1, 2 and 3; Vote Yes on Referendum 4

During this semester’s USG elections – which will be held from Tuesday, December 12 to Thursday, December 14 – undergraduates at the University will have the opportunity to vote on four referendum questions, all of which have been put forth by the USG Subcommittee on the Honor System. Each of these changes to the Honor Code would have a noticeable impact on Princeton’s Honor Constitution. If 3/4s of voters vote in favor of a referendum, this would be a binding vote, and the Honor Constitution would be formally amended. As such, the student body has a responsibility to carefully analyze these referendums and think critically about their implications. The Board urges students to oppose referenda 1, 2, and 3 and to support referendum 4, for reasons explained below.  

Referendum 1

The Board urges students to oppose this measure. This referendum will shift the standard penalty for violating the Honor Code from a one-year suspension to disciplinary probation, moving the one-year suspension to the punishment for a second violation. The purpose of penalizing violations of the Honor Code is twofold: to punish violations and deter future ones. As we wrote last year,  academic integrity is of considerable importance to Princeton’s community, particularly because of the University’s unique emphasis on undergraduate independent work. A one-year suspension for a violation is appropriately strict to punish violations of trust in our academic community. The same can hardly be said of disciplinary probation, which is so light a punishment that it essentially gives every student a one-time pass to cheat at Princeton. Furthermore, the proposed lower standard penalty is simply not a great enough deterrent to prevent violations. Disciplinary probation is a penalty where a student may be willing to risk an infraction during a major exam because it has little to no long-term consequences. If the student is not caught, this may quickly perpetuate itself into a much greater issue, wherein the student becomes a repeat offender because this individual knows the much lower severity of a disciplinary probation compared to a one-year suspension for a first-time violation. Accordingly we urge the student body to vote “no” on Referendum 1.

Referendum 2

The Board urges students to oppose this measure. This referendum constitutes that a case must have two pieces of evidence to bring a hearing, with each indicating that a violation has occurred. Yet this ignores key instances in which the Honor Committee may be presented with one overwhelmingly convincing piece of evidence that a violation of the Honor Code has occurred. For example, if a student reworks a returned, graded exam and then improperly submits it for a regrade to obtain more points, the Honor Committee would receive one piece of evidence: the copy of the student’s original exam versus the exam he or she submitted for a regrade (instructors often copy graded exams to compare to exams later submitted for a regrade). Another example is if the Honor Committee receives Internet records which indicate that a student accessed a course’s Blackboard site during an exam. In both instances, the Honor Committee has quite compelling evidence that a student violated the Honor Code from just one piece of evidence. The student body must reject Referendum 2 to continue allowing cases such as these to proceed to hearing. Additionally, the wording of this amendment is highly questionable, as it states that the two pieces of evidence each must “indicate that a violation occurred.” The Board contends that such an addition to the Honor Constitution would inherently create a pre-bias judgement against the accused. This will inevitably raise issues following the hearing, as students found responsible could plausibly claim they were unfairly tried due to pre-hearing bias. This further strengthens the case for voting “no” on Referendum 2.

Referendum 3

The Board urges students to oppose this measure. The operative element of this referendum states that if the course instructor explicitly states that the student’s actions were not in violation of the class policy, then that individual will be found not responsible. It is the most flawed of the proposed referendums because it effectively establishes a parallel Honor system separate from the Honor Code in a manner that allows for unfair and inconsistent findings of responsibility. Supporters of Referendum 3 present it in innocuous terms—that the Honor Committee must not find students responsible for an alleged violation that the course instructor made clear was acceptable within his or her course policies. Yet this ignores the troubling possibility that professors might tell the Honor Committee their course policies were different after an exam if an accused student asks the professor to do so. There are a myriad of ways that this could result in unfair and inconsistent outcomes, for example if the student in question has a positive relationship with the professor or if the professor is generally more lenient with regards to Honor violations. Moreover, the Honor Committee decides cases based on fair and consistent precedents, regardless of who the student and the professor are. And because seven members hear each case, the individual biases of one member do not have an outsized impact on the results. By contrast, this referendum would give individual professors veto power over the consistency of the Honor Committee's process.

This is not to say that professors should have no role in the process. Quite the opposite - the Honor Committee already gives weight to the professor's word; it should and does matter. Professors are interviewed as part of every Honor Committee investigation, and they must present evidence to show the student “ought reasonably” to have known the course policy. This also works to help students accused of violations, because professors cannot claim after the fact that they prohibited calculator use, for example, when this was never explicitly stated as a policy. This highlights the fairness of the current process, and the student body must reject Referendum 3 in order to preserve the fair, equal, and consistent application of Princeton’s Honor Code.

Referendum 4

The Board urges students to support this measure. The referendum constitutes that investigators must inform students of their status as a student in question or witness when “making initial contact” with them, rather than waiting until just before questioning. There is value for students being called as possible witnesses and students who have been accused to know their status before meeting with the investigators. For possible witnesses, they will no longer have to experience the stress of worrying they have been accused of a violation before meeting with the Honor Committee. For students who have been accused, it is far more fair to give them the opportunity to think about how they would defend themselves, no matter the point in the investigation, rather than blindsiding them with an accusation when they reach the Honor Committee’s office.

The counterargument to supporting Referendum 4 is that students who have been accused could somehow destroy evidence or come up with a story in advance of their initial meeting with the Committee. We do not agree with this argument on face because we think it is only fair for students to know their status prior to meeting with an investigator. We are also not concerned about its practical effects. If someone has cheated, they would know if they did so. And if they received a call from the Honor Committee asking them to meet, it is likely they would destroy any evidence or get their story straight in advance of meeting regardless of if they were officially told they had been accused or not. We thus do not see any practical harms to Referendum 4 and only see benefits in reducing the stressfulness and raising the fairness of students’ dealings with the Committee.


To conclude, it is of unequivocal importance that students consider the referendums at hand with utmost seriousness. They are to amend the governing Constitution of the Honor system, one of the most substantial aspects of the University’s academic foundation. The Board, therefore, strongly urges students to be sure to have their voices heard during this semester’s USG elections, by casting their vote between Tuesday, December 12 and Thursday, December 14. We urge “no” votes on Referenda 1, 2, and 3 and “yes” votes on Referendum 4.

Carolyn Liziewski ‘18 recused herself from the writing of this editorial.

Jack Whelan ‘19 abstained from the writing of this editorial with respect to referenda 2 and 3.

Dissent, in part

While we support the majority’s stance in support of Referendum 4 and in opposition to Referendum 2, we respectfully disagree with its opposition to Referenda 1 and 3.

With regard to Referendum 1, the majority overlooks that the new standard penalty would include “a recommendation to fail the examination on which the violation occurred” in addition to the academic probation they discuss. Given that examinations generally count for very significant portions of course grades, this hardly represents a “one-time pass to cheat” with “little to no long term impacts” that the majority describes because students will still likely incur a large penalty to their class grade which will always be present in their GPA. In a departmental class, a student may also fail to receive sufficient credit for the course to count, even if the penalty does not result in a failing grade. For a student so concerned about grades that they would consider cheating for a finite portion of points on the exam, this represents a large but fair deterrent from cheating.

The current penalty of a one-year suspension must be improved upon, particularly given its disparate effects on students of different backgrounds; a student from a well-connected family could obtain a prestigious internship during their time off and actually be helped by their suspension. Other wealthy students also have the option of taking an unpaid internship while their family supports them, something that can either help the student or help mitigate the effects of suspension long-term. On the other hand, a student from a less-connected, low income family could have to work a job in an industry that is not relevant to their degree in order to support themselves without the University's financial and thus is punished disproportionately more than their better connected/wealthier peers. Because of this, it makes sense for the University to move away from the one-year suspension and adopt the policy specified in Referendum 1.

With regard to Referendum 3, we argue that a professor for a given course in every circumstance understands the context of an academic violation better than the Honor Committee could without being in the class. Even if the professor is interviewed by the Honor Committee, there is no way for the Committee to have knowledge of every course policy/informal practice that could influence the professor believing a student to be innocent. While the majority is largely preoccupied by wrong-doers not being punished, the dissent is more concerned about innocent students being wrongly punished. It is a greater harm to the community as a whole to have innocent students convicted than for guilty students to occasionally slip through, as it creates a culture of fear and resentment towards the Honor Code, which is actually contrary to the community placing a high value on academic honor and integrity that the majority describes. Given Referendum 3 helps to mitigate some of these current deficiencies, the dissent supports this measure.

For these reasons, we respectfully dissent and urge the student body to vote “yes” on Referenda 1 and 3.


Megan Armstrong ‘19
Rachel Glenn ’19


Make All Language Classes PDF-able​​​​​​​

Most students, at some point in their undergraduate education, experience both the intellectual joys and challenges of a Princeton language class. Introductory language classes are currently among the few classes that students cannot elect to take on a Pass/D/Fail (PDF) basis. The Board recommends that the University should allow students to PDF all language classes because it would incentivize students to explore new interests and make language classes more appealing to a wider array of students.

The primary purpose of PDF-able classes, as defined in Princeton’s Academic Regulations, is to allow students to explore a new interest or subject area that they might not otherwise try due to fear of hurting their GPA. Foreign language classes are an area that some students would like to explore but do not feel confident enough in their abilities to take the class for a grade. Because of these concerns and the inability to PDF introductory language courses, students are currently disincentivized from learning something new by taking introductory language classes. The disincentive is even stronger because when starting at an introductory level, students need to take two semesters of a language in order to obtain credit for it. For example, if a student received a poor grade in the fall semester and decided not to continue with it in fear of underperforming again, he would not be able to use the class to count towards the required 31 classes to graduate for AB majors. Furthermore, the grade he received for the class would still affect his GPA even if it does not fulfill the foreign language requirement. This is a challenging situation that has no comparison with any other course at Princeton and further underscores how the way introductory language courses work at Princeton disincentivizes students from trying a new language.

The University clearly values foreign languages: in the 2016 Report of the Task Force on General Education, it recommended requiring all A.B. students to take a foreign language class “regardless of any existing proficiency” because it exposes students to different cultures and broadens students’ international scope. While University believes students benefit greatly from the foreign language requirement, many students opt out of it, including engineering students and AB students whose prior language experience fulfills requirement. Yet these students could be incentivized to still take a language course even though they are not required to if they know their GPA would not be affected by the ability to PDF the course. Students needing to take a fifth class who would otherwise not think of taking a non-PDF-able class would now have more options in their class choice. Finally, students who wish to travel, study abroad, or do an international internship that requires some proficiency in a foreign language would be able to take language classes without the potential risk for the sole purpose of gaining an additional skillset. The conversational ability gained from taking one or two semesters of a language is sufficient enough for students to pick up some proficiency.

There is a perception that students who PDF a course are less inclined to actively participate, and that can be detrimental in language classes because they rely on each student to make an effort to contribute. Because classes are small and require the collaboration of all students, if even one person does not participate it can affect the other students’ performance in the class as well. However, in order to even pass in the first place, students must come to class and participate because participation accounts for a large percentage of their grade. This is likely one of the easiest ways to pass the course with minimal effort, which is incentive enough for students PDFing to actively contribute. Moreover, active participation could be made an explicit requirement for a passing grade, thereby ensuring that students taking the course on a PDF basis still contribute to class discussions.

Furthermore, there are currently other classes that can be PDF-ed that also rely heavily on the engagement and cooperation of all students. For example, STL courses with group labs and computer science courses with the option of partner assignments both necessitate collaboration, yet their value does not depreciate because of the students PDFing them. Due to these similar cases, the Board believes that language classes can still function and maintain a good learning environment for all students even if they become PDF-able.

The Board recognizes the value of learning a foreign language and encourages more students to take advantage of the skills gained from learning one. By providing the option to PDF all language classes, more students would be inclined to explore new interests and take language classes that accommodate their needs.


Opposing a Zero-Tolerance Policy for Sexual Harassment

According to recent reports in The Daily Princetonian and The Huffington Post, Princeton University Professor Sergio Verdú was found responsible for sexual harassment in June of this year. A Title IX investigation determined that Verdú “engaged in unwelcome verbal or physical behavior” towards one of his graduate student advisees, and that said behavior “unreasonably interfered with [the student’s] educational conditions by creating a hostile or offensive environment.” Since the publication of the Daily Princetonian and Huffington Post articles, op-ed pieces have been written and petitions have been issued, criticizing the University’s handling of Verdú’s case. Specifically, they have demanded that the University retroactively increase the severity of Verdú’s punishment and that the University implement a “zero-tolerance policy” for cases of sexual harassment. The Board categorically condemns acts of sexual harassment, but we disagree with the op-ed authors and petitioners on both points.

The petition asks that the University “elevate its disciplinary actions against Professor Verdú,” but such retroactive alterations, outside of a formal appeals process, to an already-adjudicated case would constitute a severe violation of due process. Decisions about responsibility and punishment should be left in the hands of trained University bodies like the Title IX Panel that considered Professor Verdú’s case. It is unfair to relitigate a case in the court of public opinion merely for the sake of satisfying public outrage. Moreover, while we do not know the exact punishment levied against Professor Verdú, we do know that the University imposed some penalty beyond the mandatory eight hours of counseling. Based on the University’s annual Title IX Report, that penalty could presumably have been a letter of concern, a warning letter, or probation. We hope that it was on the more severe end of these options, but we disagree that his punishment should be increased after the fact. Finally, it is worth noting that University disciplinary proceedings such as this are guided largely by precedent. Penalties are determined by reference to previous cases that occurred under similar circumstances. It would be inappropriate to increase Professor Verdú’s penalty when other professors who committed similar infractions, but whose cases did not receive similar public attention, received less severe punishments.

The Board also rejects calls for a “zero-tolerance policy” in cases of sexual harassment. Generally speaking, a zero-tolerance policy is a poor way to dole out punishments. Different crimes and infractions can be more or less severe than others. Any effective adjudicative procedure must recognize this fact and, accordingly, assign punishments of varying severity. This is a fundamental aspect of our nation’s criminal justice system, and the University would be remiss if it did not incorporate the principle in its own internal proceedings. Correlating different levels of punishment with different levels of wrongdoing is especially important in cases of sexual harassment. As a specific policy violation, sexual harassment is poorly defined and can encompass an extensive range of behaviors. As a result, there is room for misinterpretation and even abuse of sexual harassment policies. Examples of such abuse abound: a professor at Louisiana State University was terminated for using “off-color language,” and in another case a Northwestern University professor was accused of Title IX violations simply for writing an article that expressed worries about “sexual paranoia” on college campuses.

A zero-tolerance policy is particularly inappropriate in the context of flawed Title IX procedures, about which we have written before. Current procedures for adjudicating Title IX allegations lack due process protections for the accused and utilize an unfair ‘preponderance of evidence standard,’ which finds the accused responsible for a violation if it is more likely than not that they have committed the alleged violation. If the University wishes to treat sexual harassment allegations seriously, then it should reinstitute robust due process protections for the accused and raise the standard of proof so as to ensure confidence in the adjudication process. So long as the University does not adopt these common-sense reforms, it is wrong to automatically terminate someone who is found responsible under the current, flawed procedures.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a zero-tolerance policy could backfire in a number of ways specific to an academic setting. Princeton prides itself on its low student-professor ratio, and students frequently note the wonderful ways in which professors go beyond the classroom to engage with students and advisees. Commonplace examples include professors inviting students to their home for dinner, students inviting professors to have coffee on Nassau Street, and both students and professors inviting each other to interesting cultural and learning opportunities. Yet, under a zero-tolerance policy, the certainty professors would be fired if found responsible of sexual harassment would deter them from engaging with their advisees in one-on-one situations -- particularly their female advisees -- out of an abundance of caution to avoid being accused of harassment. Consequently, advisees would be robbed of many opportunities to network, receive mentorship, or otherwise develop a strong relationship with their advisors.

Additionally, a zero-tolerance policy could actually make it less likely that allegations of sexual harassment are brought forward. If a victim of sexual harassment knows that bringing any allegation against their harasser could result in that person’s termination, then he or she may not be inclined to bring their claim if they do not feel that the incident warrants a punishment so severe as termination. This would leave unreported a number of cases of sexual harassment that should be punished, albeit less harshly than termination. Additionally, if a professor were fired for sexual harassment, their termination would be public knowledge and likely the subject of considerable media coverage. Victims who do not wish to make their situation so public (for fear of retribution, personal privacy concerns, etc.) may thus be deterred from lodging an official complaint.

The Board understands that those frustrated with the University’s current sexual harassment policies wish to support victims by removing harassing professors and making the academic environment a safe and comfortable place for victims. We acknowledge this concern, but we believe the University must not ignore important due process concerns, that it must be prudent when assigning penalties to violations of varying severity, and that it must consider the serious downsides of a zero-tolerance policy.

Megan Armstrong '19, Rachel Glenn '19, Dee-Dee Huang '20, and MaryAnn Placheril '21 abstained from the writing of this editorial.

Dissent, in part

We agree with the opinion expressed in the majority that it would be incorrect to try Professor Verdu in the court of public opinion; however, we respectfully disagree with the majority’s advocacy against a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. As such, we dissent.

As ELE Professor Andrew Houck ‘00 argued in his letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian, “there is no greater power discrepancy in all of academia than [that] between PhD advisor and advisee.” We believe this power discrepancy is too great to overlook, in all cases involving both undergraduate and graduate student victims. For graduate students, the stakes are alarmingly high: a student’s advisor plays an integral role in the success and distribution of a student’s research, and functions as the primary advisor for the student when he or she enters the job market. While the relationship between professor and undergraduate does not typically impact the undergraduate’s post-University prospects to the extent the PhD-advisee relationship impacts the advisee’s prospects, we argue any professor who would be willing to make unwanted sexual advances toward an undergraduate would pose a similar risk to graduate students. Independent of this risk, we believe Princeton is an environment in which no student should ever have to interact with a professor who has been found responsible of sexual harassment. Simply put, this community deserves better.

The majority advances a number of problematic arguments to advocate against a zero tolerance policy; we will respond to three.

First, the majority claims sexual harassment is often poorly defined, which leads to wrongful termination of professors. The majority fails to engage with the University’s definition of sexual harassment as “unwelcome verbal or physical behavior which is directed at a person based on sex, gender identity or gender expression, when these behaviors are sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to have the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s educational experience, working conditions, or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.” Notably, the University’s definition includes a severe and pervasive clause, which is to say one unwelcome and offensive comment or gesture almost certainly will not fit under the definition of sexual harassment.

Second, the majority claims a zero tolerance policy may backfire in academic settings. Specifically, the majority fears a zero tolerance policy will discourage male professors from interacting with female advisees with the same zeal with which they interact with male advisees. We believe the onus should be on a professor to engage with all of his or her advisees in an equitable manner.

Finally, the majority claims a zero tolerance policy will discourage victims from reporting perpetrators because they fear being a catalyst to a perpetrator’s termination. The majority fails to recognize the status quo is even more problematic, and creates a stronger disincentive to report than does a zero tolerance policy. Under the status quo policy, a victim who chooses to report an alleged instance of sexual harassment must do so with the understanding they will likely interact with the perpetrator for the remainder of their undergraduate or graduate school career. Given the reputational damage inflicted by accusations and findings of responsibility, it seems intuitive a victim would fear retaliation. Retaliation is significantly more likely to occur when a perpetrator remains within the community.

For these reasons, we respectfully dissent.

Carolyn Liziewski '18
Gabriel Swagel '20
Jack Whelan '19

Celebrating the Life of Uwe Reinhardt: 1937- 2017​​​​​​​

In this editorial, the Board celebrates the life of Uwe Reinhardt, a renowned health economist and beloved Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School. During his lengthy academic career, Professor Reinhardt published articles in both leading economics and medical journals. He made significant contributions to the study of health care that influenced health policy topics including equity, cost-effectiveness of health care, payment reforms, veteran’s health care, and the political economy implications of U.S. health care. As the University wrote in its obituary for Professor Reinhardt, “his work was instrumental in advocating some of the reforms embodied in the Affordable Care Act, such as having Medicare pay for performance rather than entirely on a fee-for-service basis.” Professor Reinhardt was also a distinguished teacher who taught ECO 100 for many years. In addition to his academic work, Professor Reinhardt served as an advisor to many government commissions and advisory boards and was a trustee of Duke University.

Professor Reinhardt’s academic accomplishments go on, and the University memoriam comprehensively describes these important contributions reflect Princeton’s informal motto in the nation’s service and the service of humanity. As such, the Board would like to highlight additional aspects of his legacy. Professor Reinhardt was exceptional in his attention to the environment on campus and contributed positively to campus life. We note three of his contributions: his vocal support for veteran enrollment, his engagement with a 2015 campus referendum about divestment from Israel, and his support for free speech on campus.

In September 2013, Professor Reinhardt penned an op-ed in the Daily Princetonian arguing that the University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity’s failure to include veterans in its list of diversity objectives constituted a “conspicuous absence of one dimension of diversity.” He wrote of the importance of having veterans within our campus community, given the unique perspective they add through their life experiences “in the nation’s service.” Additionally, he noted the discipline and idealism that the military impresses upon those who serve would bring something not commonly found on college campuses. Professor Reinhardt’s support for increasing veteran enrollment was especially important given that even ROTC was once banned at Princeton. Since the publication of the op-ed, his arguments have gained traction. The Board echoed many of Professor Reinhardt’s arguments in our recent editorial about increasing veteran enrollment. And this year, the University has promoted its goal of enrolling veterans with its new transfer program, expressing many of the sentiments of Professor Reinhardt’s op-ed.

During the Spring of 2015, Professor Reinhardt penned an op-ed opposing a student referendum calling for the University to divest from Israel, specifically writing that divestment was an empty moral gesture because of its limited impact on stock markets. Not only did Professor Reinhardt utilize his economic expertise to add an important dimension to what was a contentious campus debate, but the op-ed also reflects Professor Reinhardt’s engagement with the student body and a praiseworthy focus on campus life beyond his academic work. Such engagement, especially for a renowned scholar, is rare among professors. This anecdote is just one example of Professor Reinhardt’s genuine care for students and concern with campus life at Princeton.

Finally, Professor Reinhardt also demonstrated his support and attention to free speech on campus. He signed the James Madison Program’s “Think for Yourself” letter, in which a group of Princeton, Harvard, and Yale professors stressed the importance of free speech and individual thinking on college campuses, which the Board has continually emphasized. Professor Reinhardt was one of only 28 professors to sign this important statement. In light of this, the Board would like to praise Professor Reinhardt for taking what sadly must be considered a bold stance in today’s environment to strongly support free speech. Professor Reinhardt saw it correctly, that free speech is essential to the academic enterprise at Princeton.

As President Eisgruber said, “Uwe Reinhardt was one of Princeton’s most beloved teachers. He had a lasting impact on generations of students, and we will miss him tremendously.”