Princeton caves to the mob, erases the name of Woodrow Wilson from its graduate school of public affairs

Renaming fever has reached the upper division of the Ivy League as Princeton throws in the towel and renames a graduate school, while Yale begins to fear pressure to drop the name of slave trader Eli Yale from its global brand. Brian Pietsch reports in the New York Times:

Princeton University will remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges, the university’s president said on Saturday — a move that comes four years after it decided to keep the name over the objections of student protests.

The university’s board of trustees found that Wilson’s “racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms,” Princeton’s president, Christopher L. Eisgruber, said in a statement.

“Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time,” Mr. Eisgruber said. Wilson was the university’s president from 1902 to 1910 before becoming the U.S. president in 1913.

The former Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University

Photo credit: Zane R via Flickr

Make no mistake: Woodrow Wilson was an open racist, a fact that endeared him to the Dixiecrat wing of the Democrats and therefore provided the margin of victory to make him their nominee and then President of the United States. He was such a racist that he re-segregated the Armed Forces, and in a move that has never gotten the attention it deserved, torpedoed a Japanese delegation’s effort to place a declaration of racial equality in the Versailles Peace Treaty, humiliating the nascent Japanese democracy movement, and empowering the racialists and militarists who eventually drove Japan into an expansionist military dictatorship.

Since no new facts have come to light about Wilson, it is hard to deny that fears of the mob motivated the school to reverse its earlier decision.  That is my translation of this official statement:

“The question has been made more urgent by the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, which have served as tragic reminders of the ongoing need for all of us to stand against racism and for equality and justice,” the statement continued.

This raises awkward questions for me. In 1969, I was awarded what was then called a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by a nonprofit called The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, headquartered in Princeton, NJ, where Wilson had formerly served as president of Princeton University. The fellowships were intended to fund graduate school for students nominated by their undergraduate schools, and were likened by Time Magazine to another graduate fellowship program named after a racist: "The Woodrow Wilson Fellowship is fast becoming a domestic version of the Rhodes Scholarship."

The fellowships were nicknamed “Woodies” in the academic world, and much coveted those who desired to become academics, as I did at the time. So, what am I to do? And what is the Foundation, whose website is supposed to do? Do they retroactively rename the fellowships after someone else?  Maybe Jussie Smollett, who as much as anyone else stands for the movement now roiling the nation? “Jussies” replacing Woodies” has a nice ring to it.

But the travails of and awardees of Woodies pale (oops! Racist dog whistle!) in the face of the dilemma facing Yale University, which has already erased the name of John C. Calhoun from one of its dormitory complexes and has other such complexes (called “colleges”) named after slave holders, as Roger Kimball reports at American Greatness:

Calhoun owned slaves. But so did Timothy Dwight, Calhoun’s mentor at Yale, who has a college named in his honor. So did Benjamin Silliman, who also gives his name to a residential college, and whose mother was the largest slave owner in Fairfield County, Connecticut. So did Ezra Stiles, John Davenport, and even Jonathan Edwards, all of whom have colleges named in their honor at Yale.

But these names are mostly of note to insiders. What really matters is the name “Yale University,” the world-renowned brand for the entire enterprise. And Elihu Yale, whose bequest of books and other property got the school named after him, was no mere slavery advocate or slave owner, he was a slave trader. And we all know that they are the lowest form of humanity unless they are ancestors of Barack Obama. As a Yale insider wrote in the New Haven Independent a couple of days ago:

Such a namesake is a liability for Yale the institution. By that I mean a billion-dollar brand, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, an affiliated college in Singapore, and a huge healthcare network. This “open secret” is a ticking timebomb. It is about to go off.

#CancelYale trended this past week on social media, having started as a trolling of liberal elites by conservative influencers.

One example: “For an institution that prides itself on its so called progressivism, why has Yale not yet distanced itself from its namesake - a notorious slave trader?!”

To Yale’s chagrin, they have a point. It must be difficult to take a cold, hard look in the mirror when your face is covered in blood. (snip)

It was precisely Elihu Yale’s fortune as a slavemaster that compelled Yale College to honor his name, though even in that regard history has not been kind, with Elihu being dubbed the “most overrated philanthropist.” His contribution to the Collegiate School was so minor that it has been suggested the name was chosen either to curry favor for future investment or to avoid the moniker of Joseph Dummer (a factoid that the #CancelYale pundits have repeated ad nauseum).

It seems to me “Dummer University” would fully reflect the movement that is tearing down, erasing, and renaming in an effort to impose Year Zero on society.  I’m completely willing to refer to myself as a Jussie Fellow if Yale will agree to call itself Dummer U and undergratuates there start calling themseles"Dummies"instead of "Yalies."

The larger truth here is that prestige is the principal asset and product of higher education especially among the big-league schools. Yale will defend a slave trader, at least until mobs start burning down buildings, because the prestige associated with the name is what parents fork over a small fortune to buy for their children. Take away the name and you take away the largest part of the value the university has to offer

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