Last fall, a trustee committee began examining how Princeton should recognize Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. The committee convened in the wake of a student protest at Nassau Hall that called attention to Wilson’s racism. It has now issued a report, which the Board of Trustees has approved. The report is thorough and perceptive, guided by humane values, and candid in its recognition of this University’s failings and of the importance of making a “renewed and expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton.” I concur fully with the committee’s analysis and recommendations, and I hope that all Princetonians will read its report and the news release about it.
I anticipated that the Princeton community would deliberate thoughtfully about Wilson’s legacy and that the Board would decide wisely. The process surpassed my high expectations. I want to express my appreciation to Brent Henry ’69, who chaired the special trustee committee, and to all of its members for ensuring that all Princetonians had an opportunity to register their opinions, for listening with care, and for weighing judiciously all of the considerations relevant to the issues before them. I am also grateful to the more than 600 alumni, faculty, staff, and students who submitted online comments, and to all who participated in the open forum and the eleven in-person meetings that the trustee committee held during January and February. Finally, I would like to thank the nine distinguished historians who contributed scholarly letters assessing Wilson’s legacy at Princeton and as president of the United States.
Last fall’s student protests and the thoughtful discussions that followed have changed how this campus will remember Woodrow Wilson and, I suspect, how our country will remember him as well. Over the past few months, many Princetonians remarked to me that they had little knowledge of Wilson’s racism. I count myself among those who have learned from this process. I now have a deeper appreciation for Wilson’s failings and for what those failings have meant to this country and our campus. While I continue to admire Wilson’s many genuine accomplishments, I recognize the need to describe him in a way that is more balanced, and more faithful to history, than this University and I have previously done.
The trustee committee’s report emphasizes, and I agree wholeheartedly, that our most significant and enduring challenges pertain to enhancing the diversity and inclusivity of our community. Princeton’s educational and research mission requires that we attract, welcome, and embrace talented individuals from every background and sector of society. We must strive energetically and imaginatively to make this campus a place where all of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni can feel fully at home.
The trustee report makes several specific recommendations to help us achieve these goals. My colleagues and I will begin implementing them immediately, along with other initiatives already underway. Inclusivity is an important priority for Princeton and for me personally, and it will remain so throughout my time as this University’s president.
The issues facing Princeton reflect the particulars of its history and culture, but they have analogues on other campuses, and indeed in the country and the world more broadly. The quest to achieve genuine equality and inclusivity is one of our society’s greatest and most profound challenges. I am confident that Princeton can be a leader in meeting that challenge, and I look forward to working with all of you to do so.
Christopher Eisgruber ’83