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Princeton University Will Keep Wilson’s Name on Buildings

Woodrow WilsonPrinceton University’s will keep Woodrow Wilson’s names on two buildings — Wilson College and the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs.

The school’s board of trustees adopted a report by a special trustee committee that was appointed to consider Wilson’s legacy. The report calls for “an expanded and more vigorous commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton.”

The board decided it will create a trustee committee on diversity and inclusion, create a program to encourage more students from underrepresented groups to pursue doctoral degrees, support initiatives to create a more multi-faceted understanding and representation of Wilson on campus, diversify art on campus, and change Princeton’s informal 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 trustees met this weekend to review the committee’s report on Wilson’s legacy and made a decision about the naming issue yesterday.

The 10-member committee that examined Wilson’s legacy developed its recommendations over nine meetings between early December and late March, created a website to collect observations and opinions about Wilson and his legacy, held forums and small group discussions, and met with groups representing students, faculty, staff, and alumni to prepare its report.

“While there was not unanimity among the members of the committee as to whether the names should remain, in the end our
collective judgment was that the names should not be changed, but that proper and transparent contextualization is imperative,” reads the report from a trustee committee that has been exploring the issue since students from a group called the Black Justice League held a sit-in at the university president’s office and demanded the name be removed because of Wilson’s racist views.

“Universities must always remain open to change and to evolving articulations of their values and aspirations. The challenge presented by Wilson’s legacy is that some of his views
and actions clearly contradict the values we hold today about fair treatment for all individuals, and our aspirations for Princeton to be a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming community,” reads the report. “On the  other hand, many of his views and actions  – as faculty member and president of this University, as governor of New Jersey and a two-term President of the United States, and as an international leader whose name and legacy are still revered in many parts of the world – speak directly to our values and aspirations for our school of public and international affairs and for the first of our residential colleges.”

Buildings, awards, and other entities named after Wilson should remain in place, trustees said, because the original reasons for adopting the names remain valid.

“There is considerable consensus that Wilson was a transformative and visionary figure in the area of public and international affairs; that he did press for the kinds of living and learning arrangements that are represented today in Princeton’s residential colleges; and that as a strong proponent of education for use, he believed Princeton should prepare its students for lives in the nation’s service,” reads the report. “These were the reasons Wilson’s name was associated with the school, the college, and the award.”

The committee came to the conclusion that Princeton should openly and candidly recognize that Wilson, like other historical figures, “left behind a complex legacy with both positive and negative repercussions, and that the use of his name implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times.”

Brent Henry, vice-chair of trustee board, expressed appreciation to everyone who shared their views about Wilson at forums and on the school’s website.

“This has been a learning experience for us and for the University community, and it has reminded us how much we can learn when we listen to one another, as we have throughout this process and as we need to continue to do,” he said. “As we say in our report, we all need to acknowledge the challenges that confront us today and the shortcomings of our past as we focus together on the Princeton we want to become and the steps we all must take to get there.”

Board chair Katie Hall said the board of trustees strongly endorsed the committee’s report and recommendations, “including its call for a renewed and expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion, and for much greater transparency in representing Wilson and his legacy, as well as the rest of our history, on our campus.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Conrad Franks

    I feel this article would have been more illuminating had a quote from a representative of the Black Justice League been sought out. The University has given its reasons for keeping Wilson’s name. Those opposed should have been contacted for their views on the University’s decision.

  • Robert Dana

    Strange phrasing. It’s not just Wilson’s name on buildings. It’s the use of his name in connection with (1) a major and world renowned public policy school and (2) a college house, which is part of, perhaps, the most prestigious undergraduate college program in the world.

    The buildings could burn down tomorrow, but those institutions would still bear Mr. Wilson’s name.

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, but the significance is more than some physical structures — fancy and ivy covered as they may be.

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