The Princeton report — an alum’s view

John and I have written about the report issued by something called the Trustee Committee on Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy at Princeton. The committee was formed in response to the occupation of the Princeton president’s office by black students demanding, among other things, that Wilson’s name be purged from prominent Princeton institutions named after the former president. Based on recommendations in the report, Princeton refused to purge Wilson, choosing instead to make a few small concessions to the protesters.

A distinguished Princeton alumnus offers these thoughts about his alma mater’s Wilson saga:

1. The Invasion, Occupation, and Agreement. Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber and Princeton’s Board of Trustees selected the Committee in November 2015 after a group of student protesters invaded and occupied Mr. Eisgruber’s office and refused to leave until he agreed to demands that Princeton eliminate Woodrow Wilson’s name, develop race-based “affinity housing,” implement “cultural competency training,” and grant “amnesty” to the protesters. Mr. Eisgruber reached an agreement with the protesters about their demands after 32 hours.

It does not seem to have occurred to him or anyone else in his administration or the Board of Trustees that there was anything wrong with the invasion and occupation of Mr. Eisgruber’s office. As a result, Mr. Eisgruber and the protesters, known as the Black Justice League, have set a clear precedent: those who disagree with Princeton’s practices can initiate action by the President, the administration, and the Trustees if they take over the president’s office and present the president with a list of grievances.

Will Mr. Eisgruber condone the same kind of action taken by other groups? For example, Princeton’s faculty is almost entirely made up of leftists. If conservative students take over Mr. Eisgruber’s office and demand more balance on the faculty, will Mr. Eisgruber grant “amnesty” for the student takeover and then ask the Trustees to designate a committee to study the question and issue a report?

2. The Report. The Committee’s Report is just over 12 page in length. It mentions the word “diversity” and “inclusion” or similar words like “diverse” and “inclusive” more than 80 times. It’s as if the Committee concluded that it could show its good faith by invoking magical references to “diversity and inclusion” as much as possible.

The Report also reflects the fact that those who issued it believe the readers are not very bright. The Report contains not a single word about the Black Justice League’s demand for cultural competency training and the other demands. Rather, it focuses entirely on Mr. Wilson’s legacy and then makes obvious references to racism of the past and calls on the university to be “honest and forthcoming” about history, as if there has been some massive conspiracy to portray Woodrow Wilson as an angelic figure in all aspects of his life.

The Report describes its membership and the work of the committee. It notes that Woodrow Wilson made “some efforts to make Princeton more inclusive and diverse” and that he opposed admitting black students to Princeton. (Page 4). The Report also summarizes his eight-year presidency in two paragraphs and notes in passing that he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.

The Report then discusses Mr. Wilson’s namesake, the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs and other uses of Mr. Wilson’s name by the university. The Report notes that the undergraduate student body is nearly 55% “American minorities” and international students, of whom 7.6% are African American. (Page 7.) Despite these numbers, the Report says that “much remains to be done” to “address[] bias, discrimination, and harassment,” among other things. (Page 7).

The Report then lists its recommendations: (1) “a renewed and expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton” (page 8); (2) a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that will focus on diversity and inclusion; (3) “efforts to increase diversity at the graduate student level” (page 9); (4) a modification of 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” (pages 9-10); (5) various “education and transparency initiatives” (page 10); and (6) a “concerted effort to diversify campus artwork and iconography.” (Pages 10-11).

3. Hiring a diversity dean. The day after the Report issued, Princeton announced the creation of a new position, “dean of diversity and inclusion,” and the corresponding decision to hire a diversity professional from Washington University in St. Louis. Is the timing of this announcement a coincidence?

4. A strange outcome. The Report and the hiring of a diversity dean are not likely to change anything at Princeton. The university will remain what it has been for a long time: an institution that endorses a collective leftist groupthink that tolerates little dissent from leftist orthodoxy; repeats phrases like “diversity and inclusion” as much as possible; engages in racial preferences in admissions; creates special programs and campus centers for “previously excluded groups;” proudly populates its faculty with Marxists, radical feminists, leftists, and other counter-cultural and anti-American thinkers; and fancies itself as a bastion of right-thinking – that is, left-thinking – morally superior intellectuals.

If implemented, the Report’s six recommendations will accomplish nothing meaningful. There may be an effort to attract more minority graduate students, but why stop there? The fact that nearly 55% majority of the undergraduates are minority and international students masks the fact that only 7.6% of undergraduates are African American. (Report at page 7). The United States Census Bureau reports that 13.2% of Americans are African American, and this suggests that Princeton’s undergraduate population has a significant underrepresentation of African Americans.

Does the university plan to do anything about this underrepresentation or even acknowledge the point? Nothing in the Report mentions this issue. Instead, the recommended creation of new committees and programs, the display of more diverse artwork, and a modified motto suggest that the university will commit itself to largely meaningless symbolic gestures that will somehow appease the Black Justice League and not offend too many alumni.

The new motto, “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” is particularly odd. What does changing “nations” to “humanity” accomplish? The answer is: nothing. In fact, most people will ignore the new motto, as they should.

Finally, if the goal was at it appears – to appease the Black Justice League without offending too many alumni – it remains unclear whether the Report and its recommendations will accomplish anything.

The Black Justice League condemned the Report as filled with “largely meaningless platitudes,” which it is. It also accuses Princeton of a “seemingly intractable investment in white supremacy and its vestiges” and says that in comparison to Harvard, Princeton offers only “shallow words and hollow promises.” The Black Justice League does not say whether it will again invade President Eisgruber’s office or take other action.

As for the alumni body as a whole, Princeton need not be concerned. The Report will change nothing among the alumni body. Conservative alumni will recognize the Report as another attempt by the university to demonstrate its commitment to political correctness and leftism. A few will write letters of protest and the administration will ignore them. Other alumni will remain indifferent; a few will eagerly cheer Mr. Eisgruber and the Trustees; and many will donate a lot of money, for sentimental reasons or because they hope that big donations will help their children or grandchildren gain admission.

On balance, then, Princeton’s reaction is yet another sorry episode in the continued leftist drift of the university as a whole.

I agree with every point made by the Princeton alum.