April 6, 2016

Wilson’s Name to Remain on University Buildings


Princeton University will not remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from two campus buildings despite a recent outcry over his views on race. A trustee committee charged with examining the Wilson legacy announced Monday that there is a need for “an expanded and more vigorous commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton,” but the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs and Wilson College will retain his name.

This decision does not sit well with the student activist group Black Justice League, which issued a statement soon after the University announcement. While not surprised by the conclusion of the committee, they said, they are disappointed.

“With these actions and others С such as its recent display of hypocrisy and inconsistency in its response to violent anti-Semitic attacks on campus С Princeton continues to demonstrate its seemingly intractable investment in white supremacy and its vestiges,” the statement says. “Princeton’s decision today demonstrates unambiguously its commitment to symbols and legacies of anti-Blackness in the name of ‘history’ and ‘tradition’ at the expense of the needs of and in direct contravention with the daily experiences of Black students at Princeton.”

Last September, the Black Justice League issued information around campus revealing Wilson’s views on race, which included admiration of the Ku Klux Klan and belief that blacks should not be afforded full citizenship. In November, following a 32-hour student sit-in outside his office, University President Christopher L. Eisgruber agreed to consider removing Wilson’s name from the two buildings.

A 10-member committee made up of scholars and alumni was formed. Brent Henry ’69, vice president and general counsel, Partners HealthCare System, served as chairman. Members included author and Wilson biographer A. Scott Berg ’71; U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin ’75; and Ruth Simmons, former president of Brown University. The group convened nine times and created a website to solicit opinions from the University community. They met with groups representing students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and held an open forum and several on-campus small group discussions before issuing their report.

That report has recommended, and the Board of Trustees has approved, initiatives to encourage more students from under-represented groups to pursue doctoral degrees, create a trustee committee on diversity and inclusion, support education and transparency initiatives to create better understanding of Wilson and focus attention on aspects of the University’s history that have been forgotten, and diversify campus art and iconography to better reflect diversity.

In addition, the school’s informal motto will change from “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of all nations” to “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”

“The report is thorough and perceptive, guided by humane values, and candid in its recognition of this University’s failings and of the importance of making a ‘renewed and expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton.’ I concur fully with the committee’s analysis and recommendations,” said Mr. Eisgruber in a statement. He also commented, “While I continue to admire Wilson’s many genuine accomplishments, I recognize the need to describe him in a way that is more balanced, more faithful to history, than this University and I have previously done.”

The Black Justice League statement praises Harvard University’s decision to change the Harvard Law School shield, which students complained endorsed a slaveholding legacy. “While Harvard remains far from perfect, in stark contrast, Princeton remains unable to even reckon and wrestle with its white supremacist foundations and its ongoing role in perpetuating racism, instead delivering shallow words and hollow promises,” it reads.

Wilson graduated from Princeton in 1879 and was a professor, and later president, of the University. He was governor of New Jersey from 1910 to 1913, and president of the United States for two terms, from 1913 to 1921.

In addressing the decision to retain his name, the committee noted, “There is considerable consensus that Wilson was a transformative and visionary figure in the area of public and international affairs [and] that he did press for the kinds of living and learning arrangements that are represented today in Princeton’s residential colleges …. These were the reasons Wilson’s name was associated with the school [and] the college.”

The report also says that some of Wilson’s “views and actions clearly contradict the values we hold today about fair treatment for all individuals, and our aspirations for Princeton to be a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming community.” Of particular concern, the committee noted, are “the position he took as Princeton’s president to prevent the enrollment of black students and the policies he instituted as U.S. president that resulted in the re-segregation of the federal civil service.”

The Black Students League also demanded the removal of the Wilson mural from the Wilson College dining hall. But that issue was not addressed by the report, since the decision is up to the head of Wilson College, Eduardo Cadava. Mr. Cadava has yet to make a determination.