(September 24, 2020) —Today, more than 80 college and university leaders have signed onto a statement co-authored by Presidents Biddy Martin of Amherst College and Michael S. Roth of Wesleyan University urging the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to abandon its announced civil rights investigation into Princeton University.
[Update, October 1, 2020: More than 110 have now signed the statement.]
Martin and Roth defend Princeton’s right--and the right of all “individuals, families, communities, businesses, corporations, and educational institutions”--to examine the country’s “legacies of slavery and racial oppression” and their own roles in perpetuating these legacies, past and present. They criticize the DOE for “using our country’s resources to investigate an institution that is committed to becoming more inclusive by reckoning with the impact in the present of our shared legacies of racism….We stand together in recognizing the work we still need to do if we are ever ‘to perfect the union,’” they write. “We urge the Department of Education to abandon its ill-considered investigation of Princeton University.”
The DOE informed Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber on September 16 that it was launching the inquiry based on a letter he had sent earlier in the month to the Princeton community outlining “plans to combat systemic racism at Princeton and beyond.” Information in Eisgruber’s letter constituted an admission that “[the University’s] educational program is and for decades has been racist,” and thus potentially in violation of federal Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, officials alleged.
"Along with individuals, families, and communities all across the country, colleges and universities are working to identify, acknowledge, and change the root causes of extreme racial inequalities in the country, including in access to healthcare, health outcomes, employment, income, wealth, and education," said President Martin. “If we, as a country, are to live up to our fiercely held ideals of equality, freedom, and opportunity for all, our government agencies need to work with us and not against us.”
“Colleges and universities across the country are rightly confronting the deeply entrenched racism in American society, which impacts our campuses even today,” said President Roth. “The Department of Education’s action against Princeton is a cynical political stunt that misrepresents the admirable efforts of an institution that, like so many of us in higher education, is striving to do better.”
Amherst College prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its founding, in 1821, in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts and the importance of critical thinking. Today, its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world. The College will mark its bicentennial in 2021.
Founded in 1831, Wesleyan University is a diverse, energetic liberal arts community where critical thinking and practical idealism go hand in hand. With its distinctive scholar-teacher culture, creative programming, and commitment to interdisciplinary learning, Wesleyan challenges students to explore new ideas and change the world. Its graduates go on to lead and innovate in a wide variety of industries, including government, business, entertainment, and science.