Last week some students at Princeton petitioned the school to stop tributes to Woodrow Wilson, its former university president and, more importantly, our former U.S. president, including the possible renaming of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
It all began when a coalition of students protested outside the university's Nassau Hall and apparently got Princeton's current president Christopher L. Eisgruber to begin talks with the Trustees on the possibility of removing Wilson's name from campus buildings.
In an age of campus upheavals, witness the resignation of the two top officials of the University of Missouri, who were pressured to leave after alleged insensitivity to racial and ethnic diversity, one wonders if otherwise noble desires for ending discrimination of all kinds in regard to race, ethnicity, sexual gender and sexual preferences are getting out of hand.
It's one thing to be pissed about the way things are happening under a university administration in modern times or to continue to wave the Confederate flag on government buildings, considering the symbol it represents. However, to reach back into history and cast blame of an insidious nature against a man considered by many historians to be one of our greatest presidents because he went along with racial stereotypes of the time may be too much.
It is said that Wilson allowed government departments to continue segregationist policies, but he also gave blacks equal pay with white soldiers and appointed W.E. B. Dubois, a leader of the NAACP an army commission to deal with race relations, a position the civil rights activist accepted but was unable to undertake because he failed the army physical.
My point is that if we go back in time, and in this instance it is a hundred years, and put a spotlight on the way things were, using today's standards that took so long to evolve and denigrate a man who accomplished so much, because his thinking and practices were of a different era, then we are going down a dangerous path.
This is a man who fought for world peace after reluctantly joining our allies in World War I, later traveling to Europe to sign the Treaty of Versailles and fighting for the League of Nations ceaselessly to get the organization ratified, ultimately failing and his health suffered, culminating in a crippling stroke.
During his administration, the Federal Reserve Board was established, as was the Federal Trade Commission. The Progressive Income Tax started, and the Clayton Anti-Trust Act was enacted, not to mention his campaigning for women suffrage, which took hold in his last year of office and his appointment of Louis Brandeis, the first Jew to the Supreme Court.
If Wilson did not conform to everything that is common today, so what? If we're to be so judgmental and high and mighty, let's take on slaveholders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and expel them from our currency. And why stop there? The military was segregated through the end of World War II, so let's kick FDR off of the dime. Forget about all he accomplished with the social safety nets and ending the depression and leading us through the war years.
If we are to go back in time to compare how things were and how they are now and decide that those who went along in discriminatory thinking sucked, which was just about everyone, then take a look around and see that statistically there's a lot of room for improvement today. So, let's not build statues or name airports for anyone any longer, because in a relatively short time, given this sort of small-minded thinking we will ultimately call for the excoriation of our present leaders.
If Princeton succumbs to this pressure it will be very misguided.
Michael Russnow's website is www.ramproductionsinternational.com
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