(NEW YORK)— PEN America said today calls to remove a book from a Princeton University syllabus and fire a professor were “highly misguided” and “”unwarranted.” The book in question, slated for inclusion in a course called “”The Healing Humanities — Decolonizing Trauma Studies from the Global South,” critiques the state of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

Conservative news organizations reported earlier this month that critics claimed the book The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability by Jasbir Puar, is antisemitic. Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, executive director of Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life, called for the professor to consider using a different book, saying Puar’s text could cause harm to Jewish students. Israel’s minister of diaspora affairs Amichai Chikli sent a letter to the Princeton administration in early August requesting the book’s removal from all curricula.

In response, Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s program director for Free Expression and Education, said: “If we scrubbed college campuses of any book that could cause any offense, we would be left with a fairly barren environment for academic inquiry. University education is meant to challenge minds and be a place for open exchange about global political issues, even when they are contested. It would be highly misguided–not to mention an overt violation of academic freedom –if Princeton acted on calls to remove the book in question or fire Professor [Satyel] Larsen for teaching it. Suppressing an academic text some find controversial would be antithetical to the University’s mission. While we can and must confront the scourge of antisemitism, censorship is not the answer, nor is the inclusion of this book in a course an invitation for antisemitic violence, as implied. As this story generates outrage, we encourage Princeton administrators to ensure Professors Larsen’s physical and digital safety and stand up for her right to set this course syllabus.”

PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Guide provides guidance for campus administrators, faculty, and students on how to handle free speech controversies. To schedule one of PEN America’s free expression training sessions on your campus, visit our Campus for All trainings page.

PEN America has previously emphasized that the drive toward a more inclusive and equal campus should not be pitted against robust protections for free speech, and that colleges and universities must balance these dual obligations. Our positions are detailed in our previous reports, including Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America (2019), and And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion, and Free Speech at U.S. Universities (2016).

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057