Princeton to keep Wilson's name on school

The policy school and residential college will keep Wilson's name.
The policy school and residential college will keep Wilson's name.
Image: One of the Princeton tigers. --StudyHall.Rocks.
What if your school was named for a historical figure, a person of national prominence who held views that are nothing short of cringe-worthy?

    This was the conundrum for Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs: reaching out to students from all walks of life while being named for a man who prevented African-Americans from enrolling.
     But after considering the objections, Princeton’s Board of Trustees announced April 4 that its prestigious policy school, along with an undergraduate residential college on campus, will keep Wilson’s name.
    Here’s the rundown:

A product of the South: While associated with Princeton, Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was born and raised in the South. Soon after his birth in Staunton, Virginia, his father, a Presbyterian minister, moved the family to Augusta, Georgia. As a boy, Wilson saw Union soldiers marching through town, according to a biography on the University of Virginia website.

Wilson the scholar: Wilson graduated from Princeton in 1879 and served as a faculty member for 12 years before becoming the university’s 13th president in 1902, the committee’s report noted. Among his accomplishes as the university’s president, Wilson:

  • Raised academic standards and established a modern administrative and departmental structure.
  • Revised the undergraduate curriculum and introduced independent work for seniors.
  • Hired the first Jewish and Catholic faculty members.

As U.S. president: After serving as president of the college, Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey and in 1912 was elected U.S. president. He served two terms, leading the country through World War I. As the war ended, he negotiated the Treaty of Versailles, which included the proposed League of Nations. While the treaty was never ratified by the Senate, Wilson was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1919. He also signed important labor laws, including one that limited the number of hours an employee is expected to work. He appointed the first Jewish justice, Louis Brandeis, to the Supreme Court. The 19th Amendment, granting suffrage for women, was passed during his presidency.

Race relations: Wilson had a poor record on race relations. Specifically, the committee's report noted, "the position he took as Princeton’s president to prevent the enrollment of black students and the policies he instituted as U.S. president that resulted in the re-segregation of the federal civil service.”

The committee’s decision: Princeton put together a group of graduates and educators to debate the issue.
    Their report recommends that both "the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Woodrow Wilson College should retain their current names and that the university needs to be honest and forthcoming about its history. This requires transparency in recognizing Wilson’s failings and shortcomings as well as the visions and achievements that led to the naming of the school and the college in the first place."
    There should be "a strong reaffirmation by the Board of Trustees of the university’s commitment and determination to be a place that is truly diverse and inclusive, one that embraces, respects, and values all members of its on-campus and alumni communities.”
    The university's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is sponsoring an exhibit examining Wilson's legacy. Read the full report here.



    In history: The presidential race, 1916

    Versailles: A past that may be prologue

    History and the first ladies: how do they rate?

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