The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) praised Princeton University for modifying their no-contact orders (NCO) policy after raising concerns that NCOs were “improperly” used to censor pro-Israel journalists.
The ADL and FIRE had sent a joint letter on Jan. 25 to Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber on the matter. “While no-contact protocols are important tools to keep students safe from properly defined discriminatory harassment, and threatening, intimidating, or assaultive conduct, Princeton appears to be granting these orders for any student who requests one, so long as minimal procedural prerequisites are satisfied,” the letter stated. “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.”
As an example, the letter pointed to Princeton Tory reporter Danielle Shapiro in January 2023 covering a Princeton Committee on Palestine event protesting the Center for Jewish Life’s Israel Summer Programs Fair. “Shapiro did no more than report on this event and follow up with a source, a fellow student who was a leader of the Princeton Committee on Palestine,” the letter stated. “By all accounts, Shapiro conducted her newsgathering in a professional manner, consistent with journalistic best practices. Yet simply because the source apparently disliked the coverage and requested a no-communication order, Princeton immediately granted one — without any process whatsoever for Shapiro — significantly hampering her ability to cover the campus group for The Tory.”
Princeton told Shapiro that their Title IX sexual assault policy allows students to seek a no-contact order for “interpersonal conflicts”; Shapiro wrote about her experience in The Wall Street Journal, causing Princeton to modify their policy requiring the person be contacted before issuing a no-contact order against them.
More recently, another Tory journalist was blocked by a graduate student from filming a Nov. 9 pro-Palestinian protest on campus. “The graduate student followed the journalist, and remained in close physical proximity to her, despite the journalist voicing her discomfort,” the letter alleges. “When the journalist reported this to an on-duty Public Safety officer, the officer informed the journalist that she was ‘inciting something.’ 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.”
Afterwards, the graduate student requested — and was granted — the no-contact order against the Tory journalist, even though the graduate student did not inform the journalist that they were pursuing a no-contact order against her. The journalist was told that by the university mentioning the graduate student’s name in articles about the protest could potentially violate the order.
“To be clear, when properly utilized, no-contact orders are an important tool to ensure the safety of victims of physical violence, sexual misconduct, true threats, or discriminatory harassment,” the letter states toward the end. “But Princeton is allowing students with ideological disagreements to transform no-contact orders into cudgels to silence the ‘lively and fearless freedom of debate and deliberation’ that Princeton promises all students. This is at least the second time in the last two years that a Tory student journalist has been silenced by a no-contact order at the behest of community members offended by his or her pro-Israel journalism. This systematic weaponization of no-contact orders to silence pro-Israel journalism — or any journalism — cannot stand.”
— FIRE (@TheFIREorg) January 25, 2024
Michael Hotchkiss, Princeton’s assistant vice president for communications, said in a statement to the Journal, “The University reviewed its process for No Contact and No Communication orders in the summer of 2022 and December 2023, in response to concerns expressed by community members. As a result, the University has narrowed the circumstances under which such orders can be issued. Those situations are outlined here, and additional information is available in these FAQs.” The link provided by Hotchkiss goes to the “Conflict Resolution” section on Princeton’s website that states that such orders only issued “in an emergent situation such as where there has been a significant interpersonal conflict or altercation” — in which case it’s temporary — or when “an individual has been found responsible for a disciplinary infraction.”
“It is important to note that No Communication and No Contact orders at Princeton do not curtail journalistic activity,” Hotchkiss continued. “Even if one is subject to such an order, referring to or reporting about someone in a journalistic forum would not generally be prohibited. The University’s narrowing of its No Contact and No Communication order policies does not in any way alter its other policies, including its Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment and Acceptable Use Policy.”
Both the ADL and FIRE lauded Princeton’s changes. “We commend @Princeton
and President Eisgruber for quickly addressing the problems in its No Contact Order Policy after receiving our letter,” the ADL posted on X. “These changes will help ensure that NCOs can no longer be used to censure their Jewish student journalists – or any student journalists.”
We commend @Princeton and President Eisgruber for quickly addressing the problems in its No Contact Order Policy after receiving our letter. These changes will help ensure that NCOs can no longer be used to censure their Jewish student journalists – or any student journalists. https://t.co/ZOUwkqJUJ3
— ADL (@ADL) January 30, 2024
Jessie Appleby, the programs officer on FIRE’s Campus Rights Team, wrote on the organization’s website that Princeton’s changes are a “victory” because the new policy “appropriately limits the circumstances in which no-contact orders will issue.” “President Eisgruber recently wrote that ‘[f]ree speech and academic freedom are the lifeblood of any great university and any healthy democracy,’ re-committing Princeton to provide students and faculty ‘with the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn,’” wrote Appleby. “The no-contact order policy change is a good first step to fulfilling that promise.”
However, Alexandra Orbuch, publisher of the Tory, told the Journal in an email that despite the changes to the NCO policy, “my order remains in place even though it’s procedurally invalid and plainly substantively invalid in light of the new policies. Though I am relieved that future students will not be forced to go through what I went through, I remain a victim of my own University.” She explained to the Journal that “an NCO was granted against me after I reported at a rally and faced harassment.”
“While Princeton did finally inform me that the order does not prevent me from reporting on this rally and the harassment, this only occurred after two months had passed and lawyers from national nonprofits got involved,” Orbuch continued. “Even so, the administration still has not lifted the order. It is saddening that Princeton students must decide between ensuring their physical security and safeguarding the future of their academic careers and fulfilling their roles as reporters. This is not a choice that anyone in a free society should have to make.”
Orbuch also told the Journal that “since our writers have faced harassment and NCOs because of their reporting, I and other Tory leaders have been more hesitant to send reporters to anti-Israel rallies on campus given safety and disciplinary concerns. I feel a deep responsibility for the safety of my writing staff and do not want to put them in harm’s way or a situation where they may face an NCO.”
Hotchkiss did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment regarding the status of the NCO against Orbuch.