Princeton to remove Wilson’s name from renowned School of Public and International Affairs

By Tom Bergeron
Princeton | Jun 27, 2020 at 9:19 pm

The Princeton University board of trustees voted to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the university’s School of Public and International Affairs on Friday. The school now will be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Wilson’s name also is being removed from Wilson College, which will now be known as First College.

The board, in a statement released Saturday, said:

“We have taken this extraordinary step because we believe that Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school whose scholars, students and alumni must be firmly committed to combatting the scourge of racism in all its forms.”

Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber recommended the board take this step. In a letter to the Princeton community, Eisgruber called the steps “extraordinary measures,” and noted they are not the only steps the school is taking to combat the realities and legacy of racism.

Eisgruber, in the letter, was extremely critical of Wilson.

“Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential, even by the standards of his own time,” he wrote. “He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice. He not only acquiesced in, but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.

“Wilson’s segregationist policies make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school. When a university names a school of public policy for a political leader, it inevitably suggests that the honoree is a model for students who study at the school. This searing moment in American history has made clear that Wilson’s racism disqualifies him from that role. In a nation that continues to struggle with racism, this university and its school of public and international affairs must stand clearly and firmly for equality and justice.”

Wilson served as the 28th President of the United States from 1913-1921, and thus during World War I. He served as president of Princeton from 1902 to 1910, when he was elected the 34th governor of New Jersey. He left that office days before being inaugurated.  It is widely acknowledged that he held racist views — and enacted racist policies — in each of the roles.

Eisgruber noted the university has been challenged by Wilson’s legacy before.

In November 2015, a group of student activists occupied Eisgruber’s office and demanded Wilson’s name be removed.

At that time, the school created the Wilson Legacy Review Committee. In April 2016, it recommended a number of reforms to make Princeton more inclusive and more honest about its history — but it left Wilson’s name on the school and the college.

Eisgruber said he and board Chair Weezie Sams spoke to the board Friday, and he said the board reconsidered these conclusions this month, as the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks drew renewed attention to the long and damaging history of racism in America.

“The board continues to respect, as do I, the Wilson Legacy Review Committee’s process and report, including its description of Wilson’s historical record and its ‘presumption that names adopted by the trustees after full and thoughtful deliberation … will remain in place, especially when the original reasons for adopting the names remain valid.’ The board nevertheless concluded that the presumption should yield in this case, because of considerations specific to Wilson’s racist policies and to how his name shapes the identities of the school and the college.”

Gov. Phil Murphy did not immediately respond to the announcement, but his communications director, Mahan Gunaratna, told the New Jersey Globe that Murphy is no longer using a desk that was used by Wilson — and marked with Wilson’s name — that he had used since he took office.

Among other changes regarding Wilson, Camden City School District Superintendent Katrina McCombs announced June 16 that Woodrow Wilson High School would be renamed.

Read Eisgruber’s and the board’s messages: