Princeton president tries to double talk his way out of pickle he created

This summer, Christopher Eisgruber, the president of Princeton University, admitted that the institution he has run for years is plagued by “systemic racism.” He also admitted that racist assumptions “remain embedded in structures of the University itself.”

U.S. law bars colleges and universities that receive federal money from subjecting students to discrimination on the basis of race. Princeton receives lots of federal money.

Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Education, which is charged with enforcing the federal ban on discrimination by colleges and universities, commenced an investigation of Princeton. As the saying goes, Eisgruber had stepped in it.

Is there a way to square Eisgruber’s admission of systemic racism at Princeton with the federal ban on race discrimination? I discussed some possible ways to attempt that reconciliation here and here. They don’t work.

Nonetheless, Eisgruber is determined to squirm his way out of the problem he created. The Daily Princetonian reports:

Pushing back against the [Department of Education’s] investigation’s premise, President Eisgruber said, “It is very surprising to me, frankly, that the Department of Education thinks that because Princeton has stated that we want to address systemic racism that we are somehow admitting … there is something wrong in our community that requires intervention from the federal government.”

Eisgruber said he is not aware of any civil rights violations that the University had committed.

“I am not aware of instances where the University has discriminated unlawfully against individuals, and we will explain that to the government,” Eisgruber said.

But here is what Eisgruber admitted before he realized Princeton might be investigated for discrimination:

Racism and the damage it does to people of color. . .persist at Princeton.

Thus, Eisgruber wasn’t being honest at the town hall. Princeton (Eisgruber) has said more than that it “want[s] to address systemic racism.” It has admitted that such racism exists at Princeton and that it damages “people of color” at Princeton.

And clearly, this state of affairs means that “there is something wrong in [the Princeton] community.” Or does Eisgruber want to tell Princeton’s black students that there is nothing wrong with systemic racism at the University they attend?

It’s equally clear that the state of affairs Eisgruber describes warrants government intervention. Princeton has repeatedly certified to the government that it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race. It is the Department of Education’s job to ensure that Princeton meets its legal obligation not to so discriminate. And government intervention is all the more urgent in this case, where Eisgruber has had seven years to address the systemic racism that he says persists at the institution he runs.

Eisgruber’s claim that he is not aware of any civil rights violations by Princeton is laughable in view of his admission that persistent racism at Princeton is harming “people of color.” Causing harm to people due to their race is a straightforward form of discrimination.

Eisgruber says he isn’t “aware of instances where the University has discriminated unlawfully against individuals.” It may be that Princeton hasn’t made decisions — e.g., regarding admissions, hiring, promotion, and housing — that discriminate against Blacks. (More likely, it has made decisions in these areas that discriminate against Whites and Asians.) When Eisgruber said that racism persists at Princeton, he might have been thinking about racist acts by members of the community who aren’t part of his administration and of which he isn’t specifically aware.

But it is unlawful to maintain a persistently racist discriminatory work/study environment. And Eisgruber has admitted his awareness that Princeton is such an environment (in his view) and that Princeton students “of color” are harmed as a result. In addition, he has said that “racist assumptions” are “embedded” in the very “structures” of the University

The only honest way for Eisgruber to escape his pickle is to admit that he was blowing smoke when he copped to persistent systemic racism at Princeton. But the consequences of such an admission would be waves of protest, loss of credibility, and presumably the end of Eisgruber’s time as president.

Thus, Eisgruber will continue with his double talk in the expectation that Joe Biden will be elected president and that Biden’s administration will bail Eisgruber out by ending the federal investigation of racism at Princeton.

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