Monday, April 04, 2016

What's in a name

In one of the less surprising events of the year so far (given alumni relations and fundraising considerations), Princeton is keeping Woodrow Wilson's name on things despite the recent discussion of his vicious (even in the context of his times) racism.

Personally, I'm fine with the last name but would change the first names: Delroy Wilson College, Brian Wilson School.  These are two people whose achievements I actually admire.

Less flippantly, I don't know the proper metric for deciding questions such as this.  If you're Princeton's president, there are multiple constituencies that you have to think about, and in the long run where you steer the school matters more than these symbolic issues, fraught though they are.

I personally find Woodrow Wilson detestable on balance, and would not want to honor him in any way.  But it's a complicated story (history is complicated), as the history of our country is morally complicated (featuring both some very good and some very bad things).  I have sympathy for both the Progressive Era legislation of Wilson's first term and the aspirations behind his League of Nations push.  But for me personally they're outweighed by the bad.


Ellen Livingston said...

Let's not dignify this conversation by assuming that the final decision has anything to do with anything other than money. There are legions of wealthy alumni who would be infuriated by the decision to remove Wilson's name, which is why the whole discussion of the issue is just a bit disingenuous. The actual merits of the decision are one thing, but let's not pretend that's the basis on which this decision or decisions like it will be made in the real world.

Daniel Shaviro said...

Well, that's certainly true.