Breaking Campus News. Launching Media Careers.
‘Rantings of a demagogue’: Parents angered by Princeton president’s graduation address

‘President Eisgruber’s commencement speech was a disgrace,’ one mother said

PRINCETON, N.J. — A large contingent of parents of graduating seniors who sat through Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber’s recent commencement address described it as hypocritical and a “woke sermon” in interviews with The College Fix.

They scoffed at his claim that the Ivy League institution is a bastion of free speech and bristled at his embrace of all kinds of diversity except intellectual diversity.

“President Eisgruber’s commencement speech was a disgrace,” a mother of a graduating senior told The College Fix in an email. “The primary assault on free speech takes place on every campus in this country – including Princeton.”

“It takes the form of blocking and shouting down faculty and invited speakers who dare to stray from the liberal orthodoxy,” she said. “…He chose to use his 2023 commencement address to deliver the rantings of a demagogue.”

Eisgruber told the audience “we must stand up and speak up together for the values of free expression and full inclusivity for people of all identities.”

“There are people who claim, for example, that when colleges and universities endorse the value of diversity and inclusivity or teach about racism and sexism, they are ‘indoctrinating students’ or in some other way endangering free speech,” he said.

Eisgruber also criticized Florida legislation without specifying which bills, suggesting students in Florida are now living in fear. He denounced other newly passed laws across the nation that have reined in illiberalism.

“Some of these bills prohibit discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity. Some prohibit teaching disfavored views about race, racism, and American history. Others seek to undermine the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities or to abolish tenure, thereby enabling politicians to control what professors can teach or publish,” he said.

More than 10 parents who attended the graduation ceremony expressed their disappointment and anger with Eisgruber’s speech in interviews with The College Fix. Most asked to remain anonymous.

“I was taken aback by the audacity of [Eisgruber’s speech] and the disingenuousness of it, even the dishonesty of it. As far as I can tell, no one else in the country has done more to undermine the protections that tenure gives to independent thought and independent scholarly activity than he has,” Christopher Nadon, the father of a graduating Princeton student, told The Fix.

Nadon, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, added that former Princeton Professor Joshua Katz was “stripped of tenure obviously for his political speech.” Katz, a longtime classics professor, was fired last year after he published an op-ed criticizing faculty proposals for anti-racism initiatives at the University and criticized a group of far-left black activists.

Katz had previously faced a fourteen-month investigation for a consensual relationship that occurred over fifteen years ago with a then-undergraduate, for which he had already been disciplined with a one-year suspension without pay. Princeton opened a second investigation after Katz published the op-ed.

“It was so hypocritical to say, ‘Oh, tenure is being threatened, and books are being censored,’ when voices are being censored and opinions are being censored and run off the campus,” Nadon said.

Several parents interviewed by The Fix also compared Eisgruber’s speech to a religious address.

“Eisgruber’s woke sermon was inappropriate for a college commencement and a captive audience that was forced to sit through it,” said a father of two Princeton alumni, one of whom graduated in the class of 2023. “As a father, I felt a great deal of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, Princeton University has been very welcoming and generous to my child.”

“On the other hand, Eisgruber was indirectly condemning Governor [Ron] DeSantis’ Florida law that is aimed to protect their children from physical and chemical mutilation before they reach age 18 and can make a more informed and rational decision,” he added.

Another parent of a graduating senior told The Fix that Eisgruber’s speech attributed personal political views to the institution, thereby instructing students “what” to think and not “how to think.”

“Eisgruber gave a very biased, sermon-like, condescending commencement speech that was disrespectful of at least half the audience, both in the student population and in the parent population,” a parent said via email. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are consequences on the donor front.”

Robert Gagnon, the father of a graduating senior and a professor at Houston Christian University, wrote directly to President Eisgruber to express disapproval.

“As a President, you undoubtedly believed that you were exercising your free-speech rights,” he wrote. “Yet in doing so you were trampling on the rights of others to free speech by using your office to make those under your authority feel that what would happen to racists would happen to them if they expressed a dissenting view on ‘LGBTQ’ orthodoxy.”

Gagnon shared his letter to Eisgruber with The Fix.

“You have a greater obligation at Princeton than all others, precisely because you occupy the highest office, to assure people who disagree with you that they are respected and valued, not that they are the moral equivalent of racists,” Gagnon continued. “You expressed no concern that studies have shown that conservative college students already feel like pariahs and are afraid to express their point of view in the classroom for fear of administrative retaliation, including at Princeton.”

A parent of a graduating senior in the humanities similarly criticized Eisgruber for espousing an “orthodoxy.”

“Eisgruber’s commencement remarks were not only disheartening. He delivered a one sided angry polemic from his bully pulpit leaving no doubt about the preferred orthodoxy at Princeton,” the parent wrote. “It begged [the question of] who he was pandering too and why? It certainly didn’t seem [to be] a message intended for the students.”

A recent survey of Princeton students found a majority of self-described “conservative” and nearly half of “moderate” seniors are “very uncomfortable” or “somewhat uncomfortable” sharing their views on campus. By contrast, the survey found that less than five percent of students who identified as “very liberal” reported being “very uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” sharing political views.

Another recent survey of Princeton students found 76 percent believe it’s acceptable to shout down a speaker.

“President Eisgruber’s speech made good points about equality and freedom of expression but was hypocritical,” said a mother whose graduating daughter was the second child to attend Princeton for an undergraduate degree.

“While he speaks out against censorship in virtuous tones, Mr. Eisgruber’s administration fosters a campus environment where minority viewpoints (conservative, traditional, religious, etc.) are canceled, and those who would express such views are intimidated,” she said.

“Senior survey results indicate Princeton students feel under a gag order. Practice what you preach.”

Another parent, who is a teacher at a Christian school, wrote to The College Fix that “President Eisgruber displayed either a shocking lack of comprehension of his audience by assuming that all the students and parents would be on board with such a left-leaning speech or else he simply did not care about offending his audience.”

“I believe the latter is probably the case. He himself is surrounded by a liberal bubble in which all are convinced that they have the moral high ground and that anyone who does not support their policies is a bigoted danger to society,” the parent continued.

In addition to parents who attended the ceremonies, undergraduates also criticized Eisgruber’s speech.

“Any reasonable person observing Eisgruber’s sermon would conclude that its content has no place in the President’s Commencement address,” rising Princeton senior Matthew Wilson, a College Fix alumnus, wrote in the Daily Princetonian. “It was a grave mistake for Eisgruber to offer such ideological and divisive remarks at Commencement — purportedly under the moralizing banner of inclusivity, but in reality with the express aim of excluding, marginalizing, and suppressing the voices of those who dispute his particular account of social justice.”

Junior Danielle Shapiro wrote in The Princeton Tory, the undergraduate conservative publication, that “Eisgruber’s departing message was misguided for its substantial focus on political activism and its departure from the core purpose of Princeton and universities like it: truth-seeking and the production and dissemination of knowledge.”

Another aspect of the president’s hypocrisy, according to Nadon, played out in more than  his main speech.

Nadon also attended the Princeton ROTC commissioning ceremony, where Eisgruber delivered remarks which contrasted what he had said just hours earlier to the entire graduating class and further revealed the president’s hypocrisy, he said.

“As a student of our country’s Constitution, I find myself inspired by a singular fact about this ceremony every time that I participate in it: each of you will make a solemn promise to defend the Constitution of this United States — not our land, not our wealth, not even our people, but our Constitution,” Eisgruber told the newly commissioned officers.

“It shows Eisgruber’s political trimming: he’ll say basically whatever is required by the particular audience,” Nadon told The Fix. “For the president of an institution that has a thirty billion dollar endowment to be complaining about people trying to rein in some of the craziness on campus—through a democratic representative process—is just another element of hypocrisy.”

Disclaimer: The author’s parents are not among the anonymous individuals mentioned in the article.

MORE: 76 percent of Princeton students say it’s acceptable to shout down a speaker: survey

IMAGE: Princeton University / YouTube screenshot

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

Please join the conversation about our stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, MeWe, Rumble, Gab, Minds and Gettr.

About the Author
Abigail Anthony - Princeton University