I have recently learned that Princeton intends to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from its School of Public and International Affairs, and wish to express my disapproval of this decision of the Board of Trustees.
During my junior and senior years at Princeton, I was chairman of the Wilson Society, a non-selective residential association of undergraduates and faculty fellows that had been created several years earlier as an alternative to the selective eating clubs to encourage diversity in its members. My leadership of this organization was my proudest achievement at Princeton, because the success of the Wilson Society led to important changes in social life at the University and the creation of the residential colleges. I remain fully committed to diversity and inclusion in my life and broader society, and enthusiastically support Black Lives Matter today.
Woodrow Wilson was a very imperfect man who espoused some very unfortunate racist beliefs and policies in his life as a public servant. His name was chosen for the Wilson School in recognition of his service as 13th president of Princeton and his achievements as President of the United States, especially his role advocating the League of Nations after World War I.
How far are we willing to go to damn the memory of imperfect leaders? Thomas Jefferson not only owned slaves, but fathered at least six children with his slave Sally Hemings. #Metoo should be demanding that the Jefferson memorial in Washington be renamed, citing the power differential between owner and slave. Franklin D. Roosevelt approved of the internment of Japanese citizens in concentration camps during World War II. Are these crimes not far worse than Wilson’s policies?
Illiberal Puritanism has taken hold of too much “liberal” thinking on our campuses today, and needs to be challenged vigorously. There is much selective outrage, inconsistency, and hypocrisy to be found. Freud once said that a man and his creation are not the same thing, and we would do well to remember this as we evaluate, criticize, and appreciate the creations and achievements of deeply flawed individuals.
Wilson’s name and achievements should be remembered and respected, along with those of Jefferson and Roosevelt.