Princeton University’s board of directors has denied a push by protesters to purge the legacy of Woodrow Wilson from campus, voting to have the former president’s name remain on various campus facilities despite complaints that he was racist.
Wilson was Princeton’s president before ascending to the White House, and was also a critical figure in the rise of the American progressive movement. But today, Wilson is odious to many progressives because of his support for racial segregation.
The debate at Princeton began in November 2015, at the same time major campus protests were occurring at the University of Missouri, Yale University and elsewhere. Students calling themselves the Black Justice League occupied the office of President Christopher Eisgruber and presented a substantial list of demands, which included the removal of Wilson’s name from a residential college and from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs.
Initially, Eisgruber categorically rejected the demands, but he later backed off and said the school would consider the matter. A committee was subsequently created to evaluate the possibility of dumping Wilson.
Princeton officials announced the school will continue to prominently honor Wilson’s legacy, according to a statement sent out Monday.
“[Using Wilson’s name] implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times,” the statement said, quoting the committee’s report.
But in an effort to assuage critics, the board said the school will also increase its efforts to promote diversity on campus. These efforts will include a new pipeline program to encourage more students from “underrepresented groups”to pursue doctoral degrees, diversifying public art and iconography on campus, and a change in Princeton’s motto 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 school also said it would work harder going forward to be “honest and forthcoming” about its history and recognize Wilson’s “failings and shortcomings” in addition to his accomplishments.
Princeton’s decision to hold firm is just the latest development in a campaign to alter names and memorials on campuses around the country and even abroad. Harvard Law School recently decided to eliminate its long-time school seal because it was based on the coat of arms of a slaveholding family. Yale University is considering whether to rename a residential college currently named after pro-slavery senator John C. Calhoun. Overseas, at Oxford University, the school recently rejected a push to destroy a memorial honoring British imperialist and philanthropist Cecil Rhodes.
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