Princeton gives back of hand to black student protesters

As John reports below, Princeton has decided to keep Woodrow Wilson’s name on its School of Public and International Affairs and on one of its residential colleges. Readers will recall that last fall, after black student protesters occupied the office of Christopher Eisgruber, Princeton’s president, Eisgruber bought peace by agreeing to initiate conversations concerning the present legacy of Woodrow Wilson on campus, including the black students’ request to remove Wilson’s name.

The result was the formation of a committee. The committee has now issued its report, which you can read here. The report recommends that both the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Woodrow Wilson College retain their current names. President Eisgruber says he fully concurs.

Why did Princeton decide to keep Wilson’s name? Was this a case of standing on principle and refusing to knuckle under to pressure? Or did Princeton simply conclude that removing Wilson’s name would alienate folks with more juice than the black students it might placate? Answering this question would require me to speculate, which I’m not prepared to do now.

Having denied the core demand of the students who occupied Eisgruber, the committee needed to throw a few bones their way. But the bones it threw contain very little meat.

As John says, Princeton will change 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.” This is chicken feed (to switch metaphors). It doesn’t even have obvious racial content, though it is, perhaps, vaguely leftist in tone.

Princeton will also “diversify campus art.” Again, chicken feed.

In terms of non-art racial diversity, Princeton promises “to mak[e] Princeton a more
diverse, inclusive, and welcoming community through regular and persistent oversight of policies, programs, and other initiatives that help to achieve these goals.” It also plans to establish a trustees subcommittee on diversity.

A friend who counted tells me that the word “diversity,” or a similar word like “diverse,” appears 44 times in the 12 page report. “Inclusion” or related words appear 42 times and “welcome” or “welcoming” 11 times. In effect, Princeton relies on incantation.

The only concrete promise when it comes to making Princeton more diverse is a commitment “to create a new, high-profile, graduate pipeline program to encourage and equip more students from underrepresented groups to pursue doctoral degrees at Princeton and at other leading universities.” Implicit in this proposal is the realization that, to the extent certain groups are underrepresented at this level, it’s because they aren’t interested, and/or “equipped” to participate, in the programs.

Princeton’s proposal is, in theory, a sensible response to minority underrepresentation in its doctoral programs. Whether the student protesters will appreciate it as such, particularly absent any goals or quotas for increasing representation, is another matter.

The report says nothing about increasing minority representation at the undergraduate level. Instead, it cites statistics regarding minority representation as evidence of the progress Princeton has made:

The undergraduate student body this year includes 48% women; 11.8% international students; and 42.5% American minorities (7.6% African American, 0.1% American Indian, 21.5% Asian American, 9.2% Latino/Hispanic, 4.0% multiracial non-Hispanic, and 0.2% Pacific Islander). Princeton has a thriving LGBT center and a highly regarded Center for Jewish Life.

The report then makes the obligatory statement that much remains to be done. But its list does not include increasing minority representation at the undergraduate level.

This is understandable. Princeton undoubtedly is engaging in a significant amount of racial discrimination against whites and Asians to achieve some of the stats cited above. There are limits to how much admissions standards can be lowered. But whether the student protesters will be impressed by Princeton’s admissions stats is, again, a separate question.

You couldn’t really blame the protesters if they were to wear tee-shirts saying “I spent a week camped out in the president’s office and all I got was this lousy report.”

But although the protesters got very little, this doesn’t mean that Princeton as an institution got off easy. A precedent has been set. Black students can occupy the president’s office, coerce him into negotiating over their demands, cause the university to spend time and money analyzing and writing about their demands, and receive concessions, albeit mostly token.

And they can do so at no cost. The protesters received “amnesty.”

If the protesters are serious, they will be back. If not, their successors will be.