Princeton University will remove former President Woodrow Wilson’s name from its School of Public and International Affairs and one of its residential colleges, the university’s president announced on Saturday. University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said the Board of Trustees voted to remove the former president’s name on Friday, citing Wilson’s “racist thinking and policies.”
“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,” Eisgruber said in his letter, adding that the former president’s “segregationist policies make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school.”
The board had previously considered removing Wilson’s name after student activists protested in 2015, but the Wilson Legacy Review Committee had determined not to remove the name in 2016. Eisgruber said the board reconsidered that decision 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.”
The public policy school will instead be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and the residential college will be renamed First College.
Eisgruber acknowledged in his statement that this action may seem controversial, because Wilson “remade Princeton” when he was president of the university.
“Part of our responsibility as a University is to preserve Wilson’s record in all of its considerable complexity,” Eisgruber said.
“Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people,” Eisgruber said. “When Derek Chauvin knelt for nearly nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck while bystanders recorded his cruelty, he might have assumed that the system would disregard, ignore, or excuse his conduct, as it had done in response to past complaints against him.”
In a separate statement, the Board of Trustees said they must “ask whether it is acceptable for this University’s school of public affairs to bear the name of a racist.”
“As our nation wrestles with its history in this moment, it is important, especially at institutions committed to seeking the truth, that we recognize the complexity of historical figures and that we examine the entirety of their impact on the world,” the Board’s statement said. “Though we conclude today that Wilson’s racism makes him an inappropriate namesake for the University’s School of Public and International Affairs, we recognize that Princeton has a continuing responsibility to remember his achievements even as we honestly and publicly contend with his failures.”
Monmouth University also removed Wilson’s name from a university building on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
The schools’ decisions come amid a nationwide debate about federal monuments and statues which portray controversial historical figures, such as Confederate officials.