In her interview with PAW (On the Campus, February issue), SPIA Dean Amaney Jamal notes that when it comes to mainstream policy decisions or the results of high-profile trials, her students should always ask “whether systemic racism was at play.” In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, issues surrounding race in America should be reexamined with a sense of urgency that is long overdue. But to suggest students and faculty should examine every area of domestic policy through such a lens is difficult to square with her commitment to “academic excellence [and] rigor in research and teaching.” If you are constantly on the lookout for something, you are predisposing yourself to find it.
It wasn’t that long ago that public-policy programs in Princeton and elsewhere examined issues domestic and foreign through the lens of a global struggle against communism. As George Kennan 1925 said at that time, the results of policies undertaken under the rubric of “containment” were not always pretty. A little bit of Olympian detachment on the part of even public-policy academics can go a long way toward fostering more creative solutions to what are always complex problems.