Removing Woodrow Wilson

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of these crybullying grievance collectors. The attitude is best represented by the woman in the video above: “This university owes us everything.” “We owe White people nothing.” “All of this is MINE. My people built this place.”

So they’re trying to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from Princeton. Read the NY Times article here. The Asian American student has the best quote:

His tablemate Calvert Chan, a sophomore who is Asian-American, said, “If the criteria for naming a building for someone was that they’d be perfect, we shouldn’t name buildings.”

What will they rename the building and the school? Jesse Jackson College? The Michael Brown School of Public and International Affairs? These people are clowns. They have no grounding in common sense, no sense of shared purpose, no knowledge of history. They don’t belong at Princeton or any other college. I don’t agree with their message, and their tactics are deplorable.

I’m sorry, but the madness has got to stop. If you’re from Princeton, sign this petition. If you’re not from Princeton, send it on to someone who is.





19 thoughts on “Removing Woodrow Wilson

  1. The comments on the NY Times are coming in. Most of them seem to disapprove of the crybullying tactics, but many have nuanced perspectives that react with love rather than anger:

    As a Princeton alumnus and former classmate of President Chris Eisgruber ’83, I’m pleased to be able to say that I fully agree with him: if we’re going to have this conversation, let’s be sure to go beyond symbols.

    A broader discussion should give credit where credit is due: today’s Princeton is less than half white; through aid, the total cost of attendance is discounted by 89% for low-income families; graduation rate for Pell grantees is 97.2% (higher, in fact, than the overall rate), and their debt is the lowest of any university; finally, each year, the university spends more than $48,000 per student on instruction alone.

    Think about that: a low-income student at Princeton (who might be of any race, of course) pays on average $5,932 per year to attend one of the best universities in the world, while it is expending $48,021 on his or her instruction.

    All that to say this: when young people (I’ve taught them for 30 years) arrive at college, they are self-absorbed to the point of narcissism. It’s just who they are, at that stage in their lives. What college is for, if it’s for nothing else, is to push young adults in the direction of other-regarding attitudes and behaviors. So for me, this is not about Woodrow Wilson. It’s about how effective the university’s faculty and staff will prove to be in encouraging students to stop asking, “Why are you doing this to me?” and start asking, “What can we do together to address the injustice that still exists in our society?”

  2. Or this:

    As a child, Woodrow Wilson watched Confederate soldiers marching toward Gettysburg. Like most white Americans of his generation, he shared Abraham Lincoln’s views on African Americans and segregation. In his debate with Steven Douglas, Lincoln maintained, “And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” Addressing the Dred Scott Decision, Lincoln said, “There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people to the idea of indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races. He added, “A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation, but as an immediate separation is impossible, the next best thing is to keep them apart where they are not already together. As president, Lincoln told black ministers invited to the White House that, “You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffers very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffers from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.” Should we remove Lincoln’s name from the Lincoln Memorial?


    I am not blind to Wilson’s weaknesses which we learned about at Woodrow Wilson High School back in the 1950’s. However, before painting him as a racist bigot, you might want to take note of the fact t hat he chose Louis Brandeis to sit on the Supreme Court. Brandeis was the first Jew appointed to the court. Despite the bruising battle in the Senate to block the appointment led by anti-Semites, Wilson never waivered in his support. As a student of history I have no problem with people understanding all facets of Wilson, or anybody else for that matter. But I do a problem with tarring somebody with the brush of bigotry who came to the support of the Jews when anti-Semitism was an accepted view in the finest circles of America.

    So according to this, Wilson loved Jews but looked down on Blacks. He’s the opposite of Henry Ford, who loved Blacks but hated Jews. People just need to accept that each was a product of his time.

  4. Holy crap, sorry for littering with my thoughts, but this is just amazing:

    Wilson worked as a lecturer at Cornell University in 1886–87, where he joined the Irving Literary Society. He next taught at Bryn Mawr College from 1885 until 1888, teaching ancient Greek and Roman history; while there, he refused offers from the universities of Michigan and Indiana.[36] When Ellen was pregnant with their first child in 1886, the couple decided that Ellen should go to her Aunt Louisa Brown’s residence in Gainesville, Georgia, to have their first child; she arrived just one day before the baby, Margaret, was born in April 1886. Their second child, Jessie, was born in August 1887.[37]

    In 1888, Wilson left Bryn Mawr for Wesleyan University; it was a controversial move, as he had signed a three-year contract with Bryn Mawr in 1887. Both parties claimed contract violations and the matter subsided.[38] At Wesleyan, he coached the football team and founded the debate team, which bears his name.[39]

    In February 1890, with the help of friends, Wilson was elected by the Princeton University board to the Chair of Jurisprudence and Political Economy, at an annual salary of $3000.[40] He continued a previous practice of reserving time for a six-week course in administration at Johns Hopkins.[41] He was also a faculty member of the short-lived coordinate college, Evelyn College for Women. Additionally, Wilson became the first lecturer of Constitutional Law at New York Law School, where he taught with Charles Evans Hughes.[42] Representing the American Whig Society, Wilson delivered an oration at Princeton’s sesquicentennial celebration (1896) entitled “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” which was the origin for the school’s motto.[43] Wilson became annoyed that Princeton was not living up to its potential, complaining, “There’s a little college down in Kentucky which in 60 years has graduated more men who have acquired prominence and fame than has Princeton in her 150 years.”[44]

    He taught ancient Greek and Roman history. These days, most of our politicians are pure economists or lawyers or businessmen. Aside from Obama, I can’t remember the last president who came from a teaching background.

  5. Their intentions are good, but they don’t understand the damage they are doing. You might say, Woodrow Wilson was a product of his times. To learn the lessons of history one needs to be able to not just judge him from the criteria of our time, but also try judge him from the criteria of his time. History should not be a game of passing judgement; it should be able to teach lessons about the numerous ways a person can go wrong while trying to do right. The problem I see is that these protesters view history through very simplistic prism, and desire to remake the world based on that.

  6. “The problem I see is that these protesters view history through very simplistic prism, and desire to remake the world based on that. – See more at:

    They are the victims of US Study Guide culture.

    What is it about US k-12 education that teachers have to provide study guides for students to pass exams? Just read the book cover-to-cover, and do the problems at the end of chapters. But no, students want to be spoon fed with an abridged Cliff note version of study guide to pass exams.

    Some out of the box thinking is require for k-12 students. Every week the teachers just teach to the tests. Too excessive. Even my Asian education had one yearly exam. And 2, just two, standardized tests at around age 15 and 17 yrs in the k-12 system (that determined what and where you will study beyond high school). US k-12 is churning out robots that cannot live without their study guides.

  7. Jman,

    I totally agree. There’s a need, I believe, for people to judge historical figures by the standards of their time. I read another comment on the NY Times that made the point that fifty years from now, sentiments could change yet again. People might attack Barack Obama from eating dog when he was younger or being against gay marriage for most of his career. People might attack the Black Justice League for railing against Wilson’s belief in segregation while pushing for black dorms. We have no idea how people will think in the future.

    Part of it is also the victim mentality that is prevalent among many young people today. People are looking for a reason to be offended. I think that people need to change their outlook, to see the totality of a person’s contributions rather than only looking at how this person may have had some faults. Wilson, for example, appointed the first Jew to the Supreme Court, helped usher in women’s suffrage, and was more or less the father of American progressivism. If people simply see him as a racist, then they’re closing their mind to everything else the man accomplished. It’s short-sighted and ignorant.

    No one is perfect. We can’t change the past, but we can talk about it. Simply erasing it and using modern standards to judge people from long ago is ignorant.

  8. I don’t think that it will be possible to simply remove every statue, likeness, or mention of every prominent White person who was a racist in past centuries in the U.S. I mean, the WHOLE COUNTRY was racist for the most part. I mean, what if feminists decided to remove the likenesses of all male leaders who had considered men to be superior to women in past centuries? Who would be left???

    But on the other hand, the social majority tends to lionize individuals, and it may be at a time when oppressed minorities who are harmed by their policies and attitudes are socially powerless to object to it. Then decades later, when the same minority groups are finally strong enough to make meaningful objections, it is seen as “too late” or trying to purge history.

  9. King,

    I agree!

    I’m thinking of chess, where Bobby Fischer, the most well-known player of all time, hated Jews. Never mind that he himself was a Jew, but he hated Jews and he said in an interview that he was glad that 9/11 happened. I think he was clinically insane, but it was extraordinarily bad given the fact that the Jews are the most prominent group in chess–think of all the Jewish greats like Steinitz, Tal, Nimzovitch, the Polgar sisters, Reshevsky, and so many others. There would be no chess without the Jews.

    Alexander Alekhine was even worse. He was a World Champion who hated Jews without being insane. He was the best player of his time, and he celebrated this by criticizing Jews, saying they didn’t have the creativity or artistry to play against players like himself.

    Put this into its historical perspective, and it’s bad. Both Fischer and Alekhine lived in eras where anti-Semitism destroyed lives. They used the sport and their extraordinary skills to hurt Jews. In its historical context, it’s not extraordinary. Today, of course, if any of the top players expressed such hatred, they’d be kicked out (Fischer was already an outcast by the time 9/11 happened, and he hadn’t expressed any such ideas while or during his World Championship reign.). But not back then. Back then it was accepted.

    Yet today, chess players, including the many Jewish players on the tournament circuit, still talk about Alekhine’s defense and his attacking skills–Alekhine’s Defense is one of the pioneering openings in the hypermodern style where players attack from the wings. Chess players still focus on Fischer’s analysis of how bishops are more powerful than knights in open positions, and they still study his games. They still play a game called “Fischer Random” which eliminates the need or advantage of studying openings. Top players still compete for the “Fischer Memorial Prize.” The “racism” thing never comes up, even when Jews talk about these people.

    I think the racism thing with Wilson should come up. People should discuss it. But the reason he’s got the building and school named after him have nothing to do with his racism and everything to do with his other accomplishments, like urging the U.S. to join the League of Nations and pioneering the idea of a League of Nations itself. If Jews can play Fischer Random and study the games of Bobby Fischer, I don’t see why Black people can’t study at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and study the great things he did. People are complex and flawed. They don’t always come exactly the way we want.

  10. Part of the problem I see how the situation is framed. It may be easier to negate, but it is more constructive to be additive then negate. People need models to inspire. If a group looks as if they want to destroy that person’s character by some other side issue, it is not going to appear to other groups as a good thing. For example trying to minimize MLK Jr. because he had an affair will look awfully petty. The group is using their power to negate an important part of the historic memory of a people. (I’d say myth, but that might be taken to mean a falsehood, when I just mean an origin story). It is much easier to just add another figure to lionize and let another one fade. Politically it is more likely to lead to less suspicion of motives by other groups.

  11. Instead of trying to put Wilson into damnatio memoriae wouldn’t it be better to have him around so you could constantly remind people of his racism and the very real harm he caused to people and their lives?

  12. I think the question is, how can we balance those icons of the past who’s image we have raised into the pantheon of the honored dead? There remains a very human tendency to lionize our heroes (particularly posthumously). We overlook their faults, we exaggerate their virtues, and we shut down all voices of descent or criticism of them. This happens whether we are talking about Martin Luther King, Christopher Columbus, or Mahatma Gandhi.

    So, once all the 3-story bronze statues with arms folded have been raised in the public squares, at what point after the cooling of ‘god worshipping’ fervor can we begin to look at these people as fallible again, and not as demigods? Because that is hard to do when they are 5x life size, towering over us on pedestals? People become angry that you are challenging the gods of secular humanism. They want them to say as gods.

    Is it possible, after the fact, to say things like:

    – MLK was great with Black Civil Rights but was a terrible husband!.
    – Woodrow Wilson was great politician but was also a terrible racist!
    – Gandhi was amazing at freeing India, but slept naked with 13 year old girls.

    And what if we would have found out about about Bill Cosby’s raping ways after he passed away? Should we object to his honors being stripped of him? Was he just a product of a world where men were much more in control?

    Is it possible to un-lionize these icons and bring them back to life size? Or must they forever tower over us because people were nostalgic and emotional about them in the years after their deaths? Let’s face it, if we keep the current murals, statues, and memorials, it will be very hard to ever see these figures as real people ever again.

  13. “his futile effort to to direct the outcome of the peace” deserves a statue or building?


  14. Sorry been a bit busy of the holiday break.

    King, this is where I’d probably say the people are right to get angry, and the intellectuals are going down a wrong path. Why they get angry I’d argue isn’t because they are gods. They make something abstract more concrete. It isn’t about the person, but about the idea. It is a much better teaching tool, and a way to pass down culture.

    As one is able to get older and more mature, one should start to change the focus on these people from their virtue to their failures. As one may need multiple heroes when they are young to keep virtues in check, as they get older they need to understand how difficult it is to act in that manner. Different times and places show different triumphs and failures, sometimes even at the same time. It provides multiple models to view a situation. Once you are responsible for others, it is important to realize how things can go wrong.

    This blog has gone down the idea of suasion before. Intellectual augments are generally not going to win the people over. Some theory might win a youth over. Generally they nicely explain the world, but it also makes the world smaller than what it is. Stories and figures from the past, generally aren’t trying to do that, however they help explain a person’s place in the world and in a group. If you want to build a group, this is where you need to focus.

  15. Also when referring to the statues as gods. As a Christian I would say God is God, and these statues are simply people who may have done something worth remembering. To me I’d rather keep the statues, along with the contrast of virtue and non-virtue. It is like painting people with bold colors, rather than painting everyone with the same muddy color. In the end it isn’t for the good of the dead, but for the usefulness of the living.

  16. Pingback: What the chess community teaches us about lionization | bigWOWO

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *