As a 1977 graduate who majored in the Woodrow Wilson School, I applaud the timely, thoughtful but difficult decision by the Board of Trustees to remove Woodrow Wilson‘s name from the school of public affairs and from a residential college. An unbiased observer of history would conclude that Wilson, his personal opinions on race and related institutional policies as a leader, were and remain antithetical to our standard of “Princeton in the Nation’s Service, and in the Service of All Nations.”

Among other things, Wilson’s personnel policies as 28th U.S. president, and their aftermath, wrongfully and irreparably excluded untold numbers of American citizens from public sector employment for which they were well qualified, solely because of the color of their skin. These individuals included members of my immediate family who risked life and limb in honorable military service during both World Wars, in theaters of combat. In light of this troubling history, honoring Wilson as Princeton has in the past smacks of Oxford English Dictionary definitions of “hypocrisy.” Change finally has arrived.  

Former Art 101 students may recall the spectacular yet somber room of Water Lilies (Nymphéas) at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, which Claude Monet envisioned, painted and donated to the French State to help her people heal from the devastation of “The War To End All Wars,” during which Wilson led our nation.  Princeton may one day consider creating a similar memorial where his life can be viewed with probity, balance, and without malice; a solemn space to reflect on our society’s transgressions; a place to help this and future generations learn about, and discover solutions to address, the continuing impact of American racism on her people and institutions.

I will continue “going back to Nassau Hall” for Reunions, not only to march proudly in the P-rade but also to witness how alma mater chooses to include Wilson’s accomplishments and legacy in her future. Toward such goals, the Princeton University community will have my support.

Michael A. Watkins ’77
Chicago, Ill.