Princeton to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from public policy school


The Board of Trustees at Princeton University voted Friday to remove former Democratic President Woodrow Wilson’s name from the University’s School of Public and International Affairs.

The new title for the international studies college will be the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, following the board’s decision to remove the 28th president’s name from the school.

“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’s office of communications published Saturday.

A letter from University President Christopher L. Eisgruber followed the official announcement, and notes how the decision to change the name of the international studies school had been a debate since protests about it began in November 2015.

“The board reconsidered these conclusions this month as the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks drew renewed attention to the long and damaging history of racism in America,” Eisgruber said. “Board Chair Weezie Sams ’79 and I spoke individually to members of the board, and it then met on June 26.”

Eisgruber said that he and the board respect the findings and research from the Wilson Legacy Review Committee’s process and report, which operate under the “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 concluded that the presumption should yield due to the considerations of “Wilson’s racist policies and to how his name shapes the identities of the School and the College,” Eisgruber said.

The president’s letter offered a more explicit characterization of Wilson’s policies, rebuking him for how he “segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades.”

“He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today,” Eisgruber furthered.

Eisgruber was resolute in his letter on the decision to rename the school, adding that it would be “inappropriate namesake” for a public policy school to suggest that “the honoree is a model for students.”

The school was named in honor of Wilson in 1948, who served as the 13th president of Princeton and was also the governor of New Jersey.

Wilson would later serve his presidential office for two terms from 1913 to 1921, through all of World War I.

Eisgruber underscored the strides Wilson made to help Princeton excel in its achievements and goals, highlighting that Wilson “remade Princeton” from a “sleepy college into a great research university.”

“People will differ about how to weigh Wilson’s achievements and failures. Part of our responsibility as a University is to preserve Wilson’s record in all of its considerable complexity,” he said.

Updated: 2:50 p.m.

Tags Christopher L. Eisgruber Presidents of Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey Racism United States Woodrow Wilson Woodrow Wilson

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