Princeton University Amends No-Contact Orders After “Deeply Chilling” Free-Speech Violations

By: Alyssa Miller | Last updated: Feb 06, 2024

The prestigious Princeton University is under fire from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) over alleged free-speech violations.

How tight is Princeton’s grasp on limiting free-speech to its students? Let’s get into it and what outside sources are trying to do to reiterate the free-expression policies put in place by the university.

How Did Princeton Limit Free-Speech on Their Campus?

According to FIRE, a non-profit organization that defends and sustains the individual rights of Americans to free speech and free thought, reports that Princeton University is allowing the weaponizing of no-contact orders to silence pro-Israel journalism on campus.

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Protesters stage a demonstration in support of a cease fire against the Palestinians in Gaza in the Cannon House Office Building on October 18, 2023 in Washington, DC. Members of the Jewish Voice for Peace and the IfNotNow movement staged a rally to call for a cease fire in the Israel–Hamas war.

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This is the second reported time in two years that this has happened on the university campus, according to FIRE’s website.

FIRE and the ADL Send a Letter Warning Princeton

FIRE and the ADL sent a joint letter to Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber to address the alleged free-speech violations, which are a violation of the institution’s free-expression policies.

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The campus of Princeton University

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“This practice is deeply chilling, in blatant violation of Princeton’s laudable free expression policies, and must end immediately,” the letter reads (via National Review).

Proper Investigation Is Allegedly Not Happening with No-Contact Orders

“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,” reads the letter.

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According to FIRE’s annual College Free Speech Rankings, Princeton University is notoriously one of the worst colleges for free speech in the United States.

What Is the Purpose of a No-Contact Order?

Princeton University issued a no-communication order to two members, effectively silencing them from any interaction with each other. The document further details an alleged no-contact order, aiming to physically separate the individuals by preventing them from sharing the same space.

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This “limits[s] potential interaction,” but does not “ensure” that the two individuals “will not see one another on campus.” The university’s policy uses these orders “to forestall future interactions that could be problematic for the individuals, and to protect both of the individuals.”

The Most Recent Incident

The most recent incident involving one of the undergraduate students happening on Nov. 9, 2023. A Jewish student journalist with The Princeton Tory was covering a pro-Palestinian protest held by Students for Justice in Palestine.

Students protest to support Gaza

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The journalist was recording footage of the protest when a graduate student allegedly attempted to block the journalist’s camera and followed her around as she tried to cover the event.

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A Public Safety Officer Said the Journalist Was “Inciting Something”

A public safety officer brushed off the journalist’s report of the incident, and the graduate student continued to follow her. “When the journalist reported this to an on-duty Public Safety officer, the officer informed the journalist that she was ‘inciting something,’” the letter states.

Princeton University building in the day

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The letter continues: “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 graduate student later obtained a no-contact order against the undergraduate journalist.

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The Journalist’s Work Was Limited by the Order

The letter argues that the no-contact order violated the university’s policies. While Princeton’s policy allows no-contact orders based on written requests, the graduate student bypassed this step.

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The dean, in an email to the student, invalidated any articles written for The Princeton Tory before the no-contact order that mentioned the graduate student’s name. He advised the safest approach to avoid an NCO violation was to refrain from writing or being interviewed for any future articles mentioning the student, or, if possible, to retract existing ones.

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No-Contact Is Being Used as Censorship

“This censorship is utterly inconsistent with Princeton’s unequivocal promises that students have the right to engage in even the most challenging conversations,” reads the letter.

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Unfortunately, this is not the first incident at Princeton involving no-contact orders issued against a Jewish student covering a pro-Palestine protest.

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Danielle Shapiro Was Silenced

Around the end of Feb. 2022, a student leader with the Princeton Committee on Palestine requested the orders in response to a journalist’s convergence of a PCP protest of the Center for Jewish Life’s Israel Summer Programs Fair.

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Danielle Shapiro, now a junior undergraduate, attended a pro-Palestinian protest on campus in 2022 for an assignment with the university’s paper.

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A Journalist Was Issues a No-Contact Order Under Title IX

According to FIRE, the journalist communicated with the PCP leaders to confirm facts and quotes before the publication of an article covering the protest. Shapiro received a no-contact order from Princeton, justified under the university’s Title IX sexual assault policy.

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Shaken by the experience, Shapiro penned an article for The Wall Street Journal. “Just two days after the article hit the stands,” they wrote, “a university administrator] sent the [no-communication order] letter, which was also delivered to campus police and the senior associate dean of undergraduate students. I felt mortified and trapped.”

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Administration Gave Shapiro Limitations on Her Freedom of Speech

Shapiro contact administration about her ability to purse journalism on campus. In response, administration told her, “If [the student who asked for the no-contact order] is a part of a group and she’s making a statement and you talk about a statement, I think that should be OK.”

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However, the statement came with a vague warning. The administration said that Shapiro would “not necessarily to editorialize her directly or her comments.”

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Princeton Modifies Its Policy… Barely 

The journalist continued to explain the issue at hand in her piece. The university issued a no-communication order against her without even bothering to investigate, effectively silencing her reporting on PCP’s events and protests.

Alexander Hall at Princeton

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Many of Shapiro’s attempts to communicate with administration and deans through email were largely ignored. The student journalist made it her mission to get her freedom of press back.

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The No-Contact Order Was Dropped

After organizing a meeting with senior associate dean of undergraduate students Joyce Chen Shueh, the no-communication order was lifted two months after it had been issued.

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After the piece was published, Princeton modified its policy by moving the provisions on no-contact orders to its “Conflict Resolution” procedures. Now, students had to notify another party who they want to have no contact with before requisitioning the order.

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Another Princeton Student Was Silenced

Another Princeton alumnus Myles McKnight also received a no-communication order after he says he engaged in “a slightly heated but generally healthy back-and-forth with the leaders of the [student] group” at the same pro-Palestinian demonstration Shapiro reported on (via National Review).

Exterior view of University Chapel on the Princeton University campus, Princeton, New Jersey, November 4, 2011.

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“A few days later, I was amazed to learn that my interlocutor, alleging discomfort with our interaction, took out something called a ‘no communication order’ against me, the university’s equivalent of a restraining order,” McKnight wrote in the Public Discourse.

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Students Are Misusing Pricenton's No-Contact Order

For four months, McKnight “was no longer allowed to engage in discourse with my one-time interlocutor” on the same Title IX charges. While the no-contact order would be amended later on, it seems that students are still finding a way to silence individuals who have a right to freedom of speech and press.

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Princeton’s policies around the no-contact order differs from other universities in several ways.

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The Protections of Free Speech Have a Loophole

In 2015, Princeton adopted the University of Chicago’s free-expression policies that provide protections for free speech. This was a decision make by the faculty of the University.

Princeton University during the day

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Princeton’s policies state that “the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict.” However, it notes that “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.”

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Who Will be Censored at Princeton Next?

However, this was not the case with the most recent offense. FIRE warned Princeton last year, the changes “may worsen the situation rather than rectify it.”

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“Importantly, while Princeton’s no-contact orders to student speakers note they are not being formally charged with a policy violation, the university’s silencing of these students clearly violates their rights,” the FIRE and ADL letter states. “This systematic weaponization of no-contact orders to silence pro-Israel journalism—or any journalism—cannot stand.”

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Princeton Updates It's No-Contact Orders

On January 26, Princeton University amended it no-contact order policy  after FIRE and ADL wrote the university to express concern about the multiple improper uses of the order.

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While the no-contact orders still exist to keep students safe from discriminatory harassment and other misconduct, the order has been used to silence journalist.

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The New Policy Is Easier to Understand and Carry Out

In the updated policy, Princeton significantly shortened the 13 pages to two pages that appropriately limited the circumstances in which a no-contact order can be issues, according to FIRE.

East Pyne Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

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The new policy gives university administrators to issue a no-contact order as part of a misconduct penalty if they find a student to be responsible after an investigation.

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A Short-Term Alternative to Protect Journalism

The updated policy allow administrators to issue an emergency short-term no-communication order that gives the issuers protect as the university does a review of the request.

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The short-term orders only last for one or two days, but gives the administration time to investigate the issue. This will eliminate the process that conerned FIRE and ADL with the most recent issue.

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Princeton Is Trying to Improve Student Life

Now, FIRE and ADL believe that the no-contact order cannot be weaponized to censor student journalist reporting on incidents that individuals dislike.

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President Eisgruber recently wrote that “[f]ree speech and academic freedom are the lifeblood of any great university and any healthy democracy,” and is re-committing the university to provide students and faculty “with the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.”

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There Are Worse Offenders to Free Speech Than Princeton

While Princeton is updating its policy’s to protect free speech, the university is not the worst offender according to FIRE’s ten worst colleges for free speech list in 2023.

Source: Daniel Kulinski

The report discovered that the top ten worst offenders of free speech are Hamline University, Pennsylvania State University, Collin College, Texas A&M University, University of Pennsylvania, Emerson, Emporia State University, Tennessee Tech, University of Oregon, Loyola University New Orleans, and Georgetown University.

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The Long Road to Basic Freedoms

FIRE selects this group of dishonor upon American colleges that trample the freedom of speech among students.

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These schools are selected by the students who have experienced a high amount of censorship over the year. While Princeton does not make this year’s list, it is still on the road of improving how it handles censorship on its campus.

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