Princeton Has Second Thoughts and Drops Mame of Racist President Wilson
PRINCETON — Following years of debate, Princeton University has dropped the name of Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school and residential college — a decision that the school had resisted in recent years but revisited following a recent swell in national support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Wilson, who served as the Democratic governor of New Jersey before winning two terms as president, had been president of the university beginning in 1902. He is credited with transforming the Ivy League school into the academic powerhouse that it is today.
But Wilson, who won the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at establishing the League of Nations and trying to prevent another world war, was also a notorious white supremacist who blocked admissions of Black students to Princeton and as U.S. president, brought back segregation to federal government offices that had been integrated.
Acknowledging Wilson's complex legacy, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said Saturday that the former school leader is an "inappropriate namesake for a public policy school" because of his racism and segregationist policies.
The decision by the Board of Trustees is an about-face from the decision the university made in 2016 following protests by student activists a year earlier. At the time, university leaders choose to keep the name on the School of Public and International Affairs while making other reforms aimed at inclusivity.
But Eisgruber said that decision was no longer tenable even if the trustees' conclusions "may seem harsh to some."
"Wilson is a different figure from, say, John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, whose fame derives from their defenses of the Confederacy and slavery," he said in a written statement. "Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.
"That, however, is ultimately the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people."
Eisgruber cited the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd last month, which has sparked countless demonstrations in 50 states and forced the nation to once again reckon with its racist and violent past and present.
"When Derek Chauvin knelt for nearly nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck while bystanders recorded his cruelty, he might have assumed that the system would disregard, ignore, or excuse his conduct, as it had done in response to past complaints against him," Eisgruber said.
In addition to the public affairs school, Princeton will rename the Wilson College, which the university had planned to close in two years as it builds two new residential colleges. Officials have decided to rename the existing facility First College "rather than ask students in the College to identify with the name of a racist president for the next two years," the Board of Trustees said in a written statement.
Elsewhere in New Jersey, officials have been addressing other symbols. The city of Newark this week removed the statue of Christopher Columbus from a park. removed the statue of Christopher Columbus from a park. removed the statue of Christopher Columbus from a park.