Princeton removes Woodrow Wilson′s name from public policy school | News | DW | 27.06.2020
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Princeton removes Woodrow Wilson's name from public policy school

Princeton University will drop Woodrow Wilson's name from its public policy school and a residential college amid nationwide anti-racism protests. The former US president was known for his segregationist policies.

Princeton University's board of trustees voted on Friday to rename an institution bearing the name of former US President Woodrow Wilson the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. 

"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 combating the scourge of racism in all its forms," the Ivy League school said in a statement.

"We must, therefore, ask whether it is acceptable for this University's school of public affairs to bear the name of a racist who segregated the nation's civil service after it had been integrated for decades," it said.

Princeton had also already planned to close Wilson College, and retire the name after opening two new residential colleges currently under construction. It, however, decided to rename it immediately to First College. 

The university will retain Wilson's name on an annual prize awarded to an undergraduate alumna or alumnus since it is the result of a gift that requires that the prize be named for Wilson, the trustees said.

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Reversal of 2016 decision

Princeton's decision comes a month after Monmouth University, also in New Jersey, removed Wilson's name from one of its most prominent buildings, citing efforts to increase diversity and inclusiveness.

Princeton had previously considered dropping Wilson's name in 2016, following student protests. A 10-member committee had been set up to gather input from scholars, but it concluded that Wilson's accomplishments merited commemoration, as long as his faults were recognized. 

The university revisited the issue in light of the recent anti-racism protests following the police killing of George Floyd, and several other Black Americans.

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Woodrow Wilson sits at his desk in 1916 (Getty Images)

Woodrow Wilson served as US president from 1913 to 1921

Wilson's racism

Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber said in a letter to the school community that the board voted to change the name on his recommendation. 

"Wilson's racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time," Eisgruber said. "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 served as the 28th US president from 1913 to 1921. He supported segregation and imposed it on several federal agencies that had not been racially divided until that point. He also served as the president of Princeton University and was responsible for keeping Black students from attending the university. Wilson even spoke favorably about the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist group.

Eisgruber said that the decision to rename "may seem harsh to some," and that Wilson, as university president, has been credited with "converting it from a sleepy college into a great research university." 

He added, however, that unlike Confederacy figures, who were honored for their opposition to racial equality, "Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism."

adi/dr (AP, Reuters)