Response to USG Spring 2022 Referendum No. 3

April 22, 2022

Dear Mayu and Charlotte,

Thank you for your message and the accompanying paper regarding the Undergraduate Student Government’s recent referendum.  In light of the subject matter of that referendum and the controversy regarding it, I write now to remind the USG of the University’s procedures governing dissociation from companies.

At Princeton, any disassociation decisions are ultimately within the jurisdiction of the Board of Trustees, not the Undergraduate Student Government or, for that matter, the University administration.  The Board considers such issues pursuant to standards and procedures set forth on the website of the Council for the Princeton University Community Resources Committee.  These standards and procedures apply to the issues presented in the USG’s referendum No. 3.

The University’s standards emphasize that dissociation will occur only when rare conditions are met.  The conditions require “considerable, thoughtful, and sustained campus interest” typically extending over multiple academic years and, even more importantly for the subject of the USG referendum, circumstances in which “it is possible for the University community to reach a consensus on how the University should respond to [a] situation.”

There is quite obviously no consensus on campus or in the broader University community about issues of Middle Eastern politics or what to do about them.  The Council for the Princeton University Resources Committee emphasized this point in 2014 when it rejected petitions seeking dissociation actions related to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The CPUC’s student-faculty-staff Committee went on to advise the petitioners in 2014 that they should instead proceed through actions “that are consistent with the fundamental character of the University as an academic institution, and that can merit broad support throughout the University” such as “the development of courses; involvement in lectures, panels and other public discussions; and research and scholarship on these issues.”  That was sound advice at the time, and it remains so now.

While I am confident that you and your colleagues in the USG acted conscientiously and in good faith throughout this election, your paper acknowledges that there is, and will continue to be, frustration arising from the procedural issues about how to count abstentions.   I accordingly want to stress that, because the University’s standard for dissociation requires “consensus,” arguments about who is in the majority, or which side “won” a contested student election, are not material to Princeton’s decision-making.

Finally, while I recognize and respect the USG’s authority over its own procedural rules, I hope that you might reconsider them in the wake of this election.  Some issues are ill-suited to decision by referendums; that is one reason why the trustees, and the charter of the Council for the Princeton University Community, provide more deliberative mechanisms to consider issues such as dissociation.  While referendums may at times provide useful information, the student body might be better served if the USG’s processes allowed for more deliberation about when and why a referendum would be desirable.

With best wishes,

Chris Eisgruber