Princeton’s president cops to running a systemically racist university

Christopher Eisgruber is the president of Princeton University. He has been since September 2013. Before that, he was Princeton’s provost for nine years.

Eisgruber is a lawyer. He clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Stevens. A constitutional law scholar, he taught at NYU law school and then headed up Princeton’s law and public affairs program.

Thus, Eisgruber is charged with knowledge of the law and of American history. And, of course, he’s charged with knowledge of and responsibility for what’s been going on at Princeton under his leadership.

Eisgruber just issued a letter to the Princeton community. You can read it here, although making to the end will be a challenge.

Eisgruber’s letter is a follow up to a letter he wrote in June of this year. In that one, he announced that he had “charged [his] Cabinet to develop plans to combat systemic racism at Princeton and beyond.” (Emphasis added) The latest letter follows up by announcing changes he intends to make at Princeton.

The new letter declares:

We must ask how Princeton can address systemic racism in the world, and we must also ask how to address it within our own community. . . .

Racism and the damage it does to people of color. . .persist at Princeton as in our society, sometimes by conscious intention but more often through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity, and the systemic legacy of past decisions and policies. . .Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the University itself.

(Emphasis added)

If one takes this letter at face value, three conclusions follow: (1) Eisgruber has presided over a systemically racist university for seven years, (2) Princeton is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and (3) Eisgruber should resign immediately.

It’s impossible to take Eisgruber’s letter at face value, though. His “charge” to his “Cabinet” that it develop a plan to “combat systemic racism at Princeton” coincided with the death of George Floyd and the unrest that followed.

But the Floyd incident and the other deaths Eisgruber cites in his latest letter (Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks) have nothing to do with the presence or absence of racism at Princeton. Princeton is no more or less racist because of them. They are relevant to Princeton only insofar as they produced pressure on Eisgruber.

Nor can Eisgruber plausibly claim that police mistreatment of Floyd, etc. caused him to conclude that racism is so embedded in society that it must extend to Princeton. Deaths of black suspects at the hands of white police officers, including the occasional unjustified killing, have occurred throughout Eisgruber’s time at Princeton. Eisgruber knows this. He didn’t sleep through the Ferguson, Missouri controversy, to cite just one example.

What’s distinctive about the Floyd affair wasn’t the incident itself. Rather it was the protests that followed. Eisgruber’s actions should be viewed as a preemptive effort to appease BLM-style activists (including students before they return in large numbers to campus), not as a genuine admission that he has been running a systemically racist university for the better part of a decade.

This is also clear from the steps Eisgruber says Princeton is contemplating to combat its “systemic racism.” Examples include “assembl[ing] a faculty that more closely reflects both the diverse makeup of the students we educate and the national pool of candidates” and “develop[ing] an institution-wide, multi-year action plan for supplier and contractor diversity.”

It’s not systemically racist — or even just plain racist — to hire faculty members based on merit rather than on racial quotas derived from the student applicant pool. Nor is it racist to select suppliers and contractors based on the usual criteria, without regard to race. In fact, Princeton might well violate Title VI if it adopts some of the measures Eisgruber mentions.

Eisgruber’s agenda items don’t stem from the need to combat racism. They stem from the demands of Princeton activists, notably the radical Black Justice League. Eisgruber doesn’t want a mob to occupy his office again, and does not want to be deemed insufficiently woke by students and faculty members.

That’s all there is to his letters.

In sum, his admissions notwithstanding, Eisgruber hasn’t presided over a systemically racist university, and Princeton’s treatment of black students doesn’t violate Title VI. Eisgruber need not resign for these reasons. Instead, he should resign in embarrassment over his ridiculous letters, his unwillingness to stand up to radical activists, and his plans to discriminate against Whites on the basis of race.