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Monday, June 29, 2020

Princeton Cancels Wilson

At WP, Princeton president Christopher L. Eisgruber tells why he changed his mind and now supports the decision to remove Woodrow Wilson's name from the university's public policy school.  As a political scientist and president of the university, Wilson did much for higher education, but...
Wilson was also a racist. He discouraged black applicants from applying to Princeton. While president of the United States, Wilson segregated the previously integrated federal civil service, thereby moving the United States backward in its quest for racial justice and contributing to the systemic racism that continues to damage black lives and our country today.
Wilson’s genuine achievements, I thought, gave Princeton sound reasons to honor him. He is a far different figure than John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, people whose pro-slavery commitments defined their careers and who were sometimes honored for the purpose of supporting segregation or racism. Princeton honored Wilson without regard to, and perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.

And that, I now believe, is precisely the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored and turned a blind eye to racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against black people. 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.