Princeton may have out-woken itself
Education | The university provokes a federal inquiry with an act of self-immolation
by Laura Edghill
Posted 9/23/20, 05:18 pm
If Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber’s public confession to institutional racism was an attempt at virtue signaling, it backfired.
“Racist assumptions from the past … remain embedded in the structures of the university itself,” he wrote in a letter sent Sept. 2 to people associated with Princeton.
Faculty, staff, and students had demanded the university address diversity and equity demands in a July 4 manifesto signed by hundreds of professors. It urged the school’s administration to take specific steps such as elevating black professors to prominent leadership positions and giving faculty of color extra sabbatical time and summer salary bumps.
Last week, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary Robert King took Eisgruber at his word and responded with a letter charging the Ivy League school with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.
King quoted directly from Eisgruber’s letter and accused the university of falsifying its nondiscrimination and equal opportunity assurances to the Education Department. He questioned whether Princeton should have received tens of millions of dollars in federal funding in the seven years since Eisgruber became president.
Princeton offered a brief response the next day, claiming its admission of racism was meant in a larger sense, not the specific legal manner in which the Education Department construed it.
“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, or whoever in the [department] decided to initiate the investigation, has executed a jiu-jitsu maneuver with the potential to neutralize the entire systemic racism narrative,” the Manhattan Institute’s Seth Barron wrote.
The independent student newspaper The Daily Princetonian decried the investigation, quoting faculty who called the inquiry ridiculous and describing it as an attempt to intimidate the university. Meanwhile, sophomore journalists Bharvi Chavre and Omar Farah talked with students who said racism is a real problem at Princeton. Certainly, more than 350 faculty members who signed the manifesto thought so.
Alumni Shanon FitzGerald and Thomas Koenig insisted the university does not have a racism problem in the first place, but it has gotten sucked into an ideological maelstrom.
“In facing his woke critics, President Eisgruber chose the easy lie, and now his institution will suffer the consequences,” FitzGerald and Koenig wrote in Law and Liberty. The pair said the Education Department is more likely to turn up evidence of racist admissions policies that disproportionately affect whites and Asian Americans, like at Yale and Harvard universities, than anti-black discrimination.
Princeton administrators did not respond to a request for comment, but their update on Thursday stated an official response will be released “in due course.” The clock is ticking. The Education Department requested an exhaustive list of documents, due Oct. 7, and interviews with both Eisgruber and another designated school official must be completed by the following week.
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Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.