PRINCETON, NJ (AP) – Princeton University has announced plans to remove former President Woodrow Wilson from the public policy school because of his segregationist views, and reverse a decision made by the Ivy League school four years ago taken to keep the name.
University President Christopher Eisgruber said in a letter to the school community on Saturday that the board had concluded that “Wilson’s racist views and policies make him an inappropriate namesake” for Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs and the residential university.
Eisgruber said the trustees decided in April 2016 to make some changes to make the university “more inclusive and fairer about its history” but decided to keep Wilson’s name but reviewed the issue in light of the recent murders of George Floyd and others.
Wilson, governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913 and then the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921, supported segregation and imposed it on several federal agencies that had not been racially divided until then. He also banned black students from Princeton while he was president of the university and spoke approvingly of the Ku Klux Klan.
Earlier this month, Monmouth University of New Jersey removed Wilson’s name from one of its most prominent buildings, citing efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity. The Superintendent of Camden School District also announced plans to rename Woodrow Wilson High School, one of the district’s two high schools.
“Wilson’s racism was significant and consistent, even by the standards of his own time,” said Eisgruber, adding that the former president’s segregationist policies make him “a particularly inappropriate namesake for a public school.”
The curators said they had taken what they called “this extraordinary step” because Wilson’s name was not appropriate “for a school whose scholars, students and alumni must be determined to fight the scourge of racism in all its forms.”
The school will now be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, he said. Princeton had already planned to close Wilson College and retire his name after opening two new residential colleges currently under construction, but will immediately change the name to First College.
Eisgruber said the conclusions “ may seem harsh to some, ” since Wilson is credited with “ recreating Princeton and transforming it from a sleepy college into a great research university, ” and he became president and received a Nobel Prize.
But while Princeton honored Wilson despite or perhaps even ignorance of his views, that’s part of the problem, Eisgruber said. “Princeton is part of an America that has too often ignored, ignored or apologized for racism, allowing systems that discriminate against black people to continue to exist,” he said.
Four years ago, a ten-member committee gathered input from Wilson scientists and more than 600 submissions from alumni, faculty and the public before concluding that Wilson’s achievements deserved a commemoration, as long as his mistakes were openly acknowledged. The committee report also said that the use of its name “does not imply approval of positions and actions contrary to the values and aspirations of our time.”
Princeton retains Wilson’s name at an award presented annually to an undergraduate alumnus or alumna, as it stems from a gift that requires the award to be named for Wilson and honors his ‘belief that education is for’ use and … the high targets expressed in his memorable phrase ‘Princeton in the Nation’s Service,’ the administrators said.
Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to the back of his neck for several minutes while begging for air and quitting moving.
This story has been corrected to note that the Monmouth University promotion came earlier in the month than earlier this week.
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