Princeton University is dropping the name of former President Woodrow Wilson from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges, citing his “racist views and policies.”
Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber made the announcement on June 27.
“Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. 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,” he said in a message to the New Jersey university’s community.
“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.”
Wilson, a Democrat, was America’s 28th president, serving from 1913 to 1921.
Wilson introduced segregation into federal government agencies, separating black employees from other workers in offices, restrooms, and cafeterias, according to the Library of Congress.
Wilson, an 1879 graduate of the university, served as its president from 1902 to 1910; he was New Jersey’s governor from 1911 to 1913; as U.S. president, he asked Congress to declare war on Germany, leading to America’s entry into World War I. He also was the founding father of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.
Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs will now be known as The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, while Wilson College is to be known as First College.
Eisgruber recommended to the Princeton University Board of Trustees a change to the names of the schools. The board voted on June 26 to remove Wilson’s name.
“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,” the board said in a statement.
The issue became “more urgent” with the recent killings of black people by police officers, the board said, naming George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May, as well as Rayshard Brooks, a black man who was shot after resisting arrest and shooting at officers with a Taser he stole from one of them.
Eisgruber acknowledged that Wilson had a dramatic impact on the school, converting it from what he called a sleepy college into a great research university.
“Many of the virtues that distinguish Princeton today—including its research excellence and its preceptorial system—were in significant part the result of Wilson’s leadership. He went on to the American presidency and received a Nobel Prize. People will differ about how to weigh Wilson’s achievements,” he said.
Princeton, he said, “is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people,” recounting how Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was later fired and faces murder charges, knelt on Floyd’s neck, leading to the man’s death.
Monmouth University, also in New Jersey, made a similar move earlier in June. The college renamed its Woodrow Wilson Hall as the Great Hall at Shadow Lawn.
Monmouth President Patrick Leahy in a podcast mentioned the death of Floyd.
The renaming came as part of efforts “to more fully live up to our commitments to becoming a truly diverse and genuinely inclusive community,” he said.