Protests Greet Princeton Professor on First Day of Classes

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Some 250 demonstrators, dozens of them in wheelchairs, gathered at Princeton University Tuesday to protest the hiring of a controversial professor as he headed into his first day of classes. Bioethics Professor Peter Singer has written that "killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all," he wrote.

The protestors surrounded the school's administration building, and fourteen people were arrested when they refused a request to stop blocking the entrances. Police officers are standing guard outside Singer's classroom, and they'll stay at their posts as long as necessary, according to the university.

Right-to-life groups strenuously object to Singer's views on disabled infants. "If Professor Singer's views do not go unchallenged, there is a possibility that they could be adopted by health insurance companies, who are always looking to save dollars," said Marie Tasy of Right to Life (as quoted in press reports).

Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes, a Princeton alumnus, Tuesday announced he will withhold any donations to the school as long as Singer teaches there: "I have given no money to Princeton since Peter Singer was appointed to be a professor of bioethics, and I pledge to you today that so long as Peter Singer remains a tenured professor there, I will not financially contribute to Princeton University," Forbes said in an open letter to the campus.

But Forbes has angered some students by refusing to resign as a Princeton trustee to protest Singer's appointment.

Singer, an ethics professor from Australia, believes parents should have the right to kill severely deformed infants. Some critics compare his opinions to those held by the Nazis.

In an April 21, 1999 article, wrote that Singer is considered the guru of the animal rights movement - and the author of its "bible," Animal Liberation. He's also a driving force behind the "Great Apes Project", a campaign which seeks to extend "personhood" and legal rights to chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

To the question "What is a person?" Singer answers: "An individual who can reason." On this basis, he says, great apes and probably whales and other mammals should also enjoy "personhood." Yet when it comes to human beings, he has written that children under the age of one month have no human consciousness and do not have the same rights as others.

A campus group called Princeton Students against Infanticide began organizing protests against Singer's appointment as soon as it was announced last spring. At that time, Princeton administrators praised Singer's academic record and defended his appointment on the basis of freedom of expression. His tenure would contribute to the ethics debate at Princeton, they said.

Singer has taught previously at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of California at Irvine, and La Trobe University.

Singer has refused recent requests for interviews, but in the past, he told he was "not really" surprised about the strength of feeling his view aroused because "I knew that the Christian fundamentalists are much stronger there [in the United States] than in most places." Singer told his views had found relatively wider acceptance in Australia, "but certainly they are still controversial."