The price of peace at Princeton

This week, talking with a fellow Dartmouth alum about how the College’s president Phil Hanlon might respond to the grossly abusive behavior of African-American students in Baker Library, I quipped “Hanlon will feel that he can’t discipline anyone so instead he’ll probably spend $5 million on some diversity initiative.”

My point was that the objective of college presidents like Hanlon who face angry Black students with no sense of decency or regard for academic freedom is not to protect academic freedom or maintain standards of decency on campus. Nor, for that matter, do they appear genuinely interested in dealing with the causes of Black alienation on campus. Their objective is appeasement — to put a temporary end to the disruption as cheaply as possible.

We don’t yet know how cheaply Hanlon will be able to extricate Dartmouth from its current racial turmoil. But Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber seems, from his perspective, to have extricated Princeton quite cheaply for the moment. Princeton, though, may well pay a substantial price in the end.

Eisgruber, you may recall, was faced with the occupation of his office by Black student protesters. They presented him with a declaration calling for various measures, which they demanded he sign.

Eisgruber demurred, but then entered into negotiations with the students. As a result, a declaration that he could (and did) sign was formulated. Princeton has published the final product here.

One of the demands was, in essence, to purge the campus of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. Eisgruber agreed to initiate the process to consider removal of Wilson’s mural and to say that he is against keeping the mural.

He also agreed to write an email to the chair of the Board of Trustees to initiate conversations concerning the present legacy of Woodrow Wilson on this campus, including the Black students’ request to remove Wilson’s name. However, unlike with the mural, Eisgruber isn’t required to express support for removing Wilson’s name, and this seems like a clear signal that he’s opposed to doing so. The Board of Trustees is supposed to collect information on the campus community’s opinion on the Woodrow Wilson School name and then make a decision about it (but as far as I can tell, the Board did not sign this agreement).

Basically, then, Eisgruber hasn’t really agreed to anything more than conversations about the Wilson legacy.

Another demand was to designate rooms that Cultural Affinity Groups can use. Eisgruber agreed to designate four rooms. He also agreed to the formation of a working group to begin discussions on the viability of the formation of Affinity Housing for those interested in black culture.

Eisgruber likely will feel that he got off cheaply on the cultural affinity front.

In response to the final set of substantive demands, Eisgruber agreed to “enhance” cultural competency training for Princeton’s Counseling and Psychological Services staff. He also agreed to send an email to the Dean of the Faculty “to arrange an introduction with [the Black students protest group] concerning the possibility of cultural competency training” presumably for the faculty.

Again, Eisgruber hasn’t really promised anything except to subject the school’s poor counselors to yet more indoctrination about how fragile minority students supposedly are.

So far, I’ve looked at this only from Eisgruber’s perspective. What about Princeton’s?

The school, I submit, has not gotten off cheaply at all. A precedent has been set. Black students can barge into the president’s office, coerce him into negotiating over their demands, and receive concessions, albeit mostly token. And they can do so at no cost — Eisgruber agreed to “amnesty” for the protesters.

The students and their successors will be back. If the “conversations” and “processes” don’t yield the results they have demanded, this will be grounds for a new occupation. If they do yield the desired results, the capitulation will embolden students to present new demands, backed up by another occupation.

Moreover, the amnesty will convince students of what surely they already suspected — that they can get away almost anything. If Princeton stiffs them on the Woodrow Wilson legacy or “cultural competency training,” expect protests to extend beyond the office of the amiable president and into, say, the library (as at Dartmouth).

Steve is right — the only way to stop the rot is for some college administrators to grow a spine, and tell protesters that if they aren’t “comfortable” at Yale or Princeton, they’re free to attend college elsewhere. It’s not going to happen, though, because such a statement would make administrators like Eisgruber and Hanlon uncomfortable, and on campuses these days it’s all about being comfortable.

Better to agree to “conversations.” Or a $5 million diversity program.