It’s reminiscent of the days when it was all the rage to make every teacher, doctor and nurse a mandatory reporter of child abuse. It was done with the best of intentions, to remove the subjective component from the mix so that someone who didn’t feel a bruise was so bad as to be worthy of reporting could no longer hide behind personal feelings or experience. Report, or else. Report or you’re guilty too.
The problem of child abuse, it was decided, was sufficiently severe that any hint, any possibility, required an investigation. So what if the investigation was extremely unlikely to show any abuse. So what if the investigation removed a child from home, from family, which was often far more traumatic and dangerous than the slimmest possibility of harm. This was about child abuse. CHILD ABUSE! How could anyone doubt the seriousness of the problem. How could anyone believe that the combination of unlikelihood and trauma mattered more than ferreting out child abuse.
Princeton’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, meant to do the right thing by his students and faculty.
President Christopher Eisgruber published an open letter earlier this month claiming that “racism and the damage it does to people of color persist at Princeton” and that “racist assumptions” are “embedded in structures of the University itself.”
The letter could be well characterized as a confession.
Racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton as in our society, sometimes by conscious intention but more often through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity, and the systemic legacy of past decisions and policies. Race-based inequities in America’s health care, policing, education, and employment systems affect profoundly the lives of our staff, students, and faculty of color.
Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the University itself.
Does this mean Princeton was actually engaging in racism? Well, in a very real way, that’s very much what it said, and gave numerous specifics about its current programs and intentions for future changes to address its “embedded racism.” Then again, this wasn’t racism as in a university-funded KKK chapter, or programs that refused to admit black or Hispanic students. This was the hyper-sensitive racism of the woke, reinventing racism to mean that requiring English majors to study Chaucer,* the “father of English literature,” was racist.
Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the University itself. For example, Princeton inherits from earlier generations at least nine departments and programs organized around European languages and culture, but only a single, relatively small program in African studies.
Is that racism? It is if that’s what you want it to be. The problem is that there is a law, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race.
No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
This is the race version of Title IX, prohibiting sex discrimination. If a university receiving tens of millions of federal funds announces that it’s racist, that racism is “embedded” in its very core, what is the Department of Education to do but the job entrusted to it by Congress and mandated by law?
“Based on its admitted racism, the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) is concerned Princeton’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity assurances in its Program Participation Agreements from at least 2013 to the present may have been false,” the letter reads. “The Department is further concerned Princeton perhaps knew, or should have known, these assurances were false at the time they were made. Finally, the Department is further concerned Princeton’s many nondiscrimination and equal opportunity claims to students, parents, and consumers in the market for education certificates may have been false, misleading, and actionable substantial misrepresentations in violation of 20 U.S.C. § 1094(c)(3)(B) and 34 CFR 668.71(c). Therefore, the Department’s Office of Postsecondary Education, in consultation with the Department’s Office of the General Counsel, is opening this investigation.”
Of course, the mere opening of an investigation, which is the beginning of a process and not a conclusion of wrongdoing, has generated outrage. After all, this is the DeVos DoE, and the Trump administration, and anything they do is by definition evil and malevolent, even if it’s exactly what the law requires and what Eisgruber proudly admitted was happening at Princeton.
The obvious response was that Princeton wasn’t saying it was racist racist, but woke racist. Confessing one’s racism is the current trend, and Eisgruber was doing nothing more than have Princeton’s hemline altered to be at the perfect height for the moment’s fashion.
This outrageous and awful violence has revealed yet again, and with searing intensity, the long, painful, and ongoing existence of anti-Black racism in America. Racial justice demands the scholarly and practical attention of this University. Princeton contributes to the world through teaching and research of unsurpassed quality, and we must continue to find ways to bring that mission to bear against racism, and against all of the discrimination that damages the lives of people of color.
It appears what Princeton is trying to say isn’t so much that it’s racist, but that it’s not sufficiently anti-racist, actively engaged in discriminating in favor of the marginalized and against the majority, to sate the lust of the most ardent Ibram X. Kendi acolyte. If that’s what it wants to be, to do, so be it, even though that might well expose it to a violation of Title VI whch prohibits racial discrimination, even if its intended victims aren’t black.
But isn’t a DoE investigation overkill, or at the very least a sham to taint Princeton and undermine its efforts to become virulently anti-racist? After all, everyone understands what Princeton is doing here, not admitting that it’s racist racist, but seeking to eradicate the vestiges of its racist existence as seen by its most vigilant and sensitive critic.
Perhaps, but then, did that bruise on the child’s leg come from him falling off the swings or because daddy beat him? Keep your squishy rationalizations to yourself and report. No racism will be tolerated.
*Should Princeton opt to expand the diversity of its curriculum, or eliminate Eurocentric aspects such as an English Department, that’s entirely its choice. But as commanded by “White Fragility,” the failure to admit racism means that it has yet to “reckon” with its “systemic racism” of teaching such things as the historic prevailing language and literature of America. That, in itself, is racist, according to the tenets of critical race theory, so confession is mandatory, not to mention good PR.