March 29, 2021
In September 2020, the Trustees of Princeton University convened the Ad Hoc Committee on Principles to Govern Renaming and Changes to Campus Iconography. The trustee-level ad hoc committee, augmented by students, faculty, alumni, and staff from the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming, was charged “with developing general principles to govern questions about when and under what circumstances it might be appropriate for the University to remove or contextualize the names and representations of historical individuals honored on the Princeton campus.”
The charge recognized that the Board of Trustees has and will retain ultimate authority over these questions. It accordingly asked the ad hoc committee to propose recommendations for adoption by the full board by the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
The committee’s deliberations were energized and strengthened by the broad range of perspectives contributed by faculty, students, staff, alumni, and external scholars. While the committee was charged specifically with developing principles on renaming and changing existing campus iconography, the committee consensus—informed by community and scholarly input—was that any discussion about renaming and changing existing iconography would be enhanced by concurrent discussion about naming and adding new iconography. This judgment is reflected in the committee’s recommendations.
After careful consideration, the committee proposes five overarching principles about naming, renaming, and changing campus iconography, which are summarized here and described more fully in the body of the report. Under our third principle, we propose four criteria to help guide specific decisions about renaming and changing campus iconography. We elaborate on these principles and criteria, and describe a process through which they could inform future decision-making, later in our report.
These principles and criteria are intended to serve as guidelines for the board’s use. The committee recognizes that the board will need to exercise judgment to apply them to cases in the future. The committee also recognizes that there are two types of namings on the University campus—those that recognize gifts and those that serve to honor a namesake’s legacy. As explained more thoroughly in the report, the proposed principles and criteria will apply in different ways to these two types of namings.
- Naming decisions must be grounded in the University’s mission and core values. Decisions about naming, renaming, and changing campus iconography must be made with due regard for the University’s educational mission and core values, including its commitments to teaching and research of unsurpassed quality, to truth-seeking, and to inclusivity.
- Naming decisions complement and supplement other initiatives to achieve equity and inclusivity. Names and symbols matter to our campus and community, but the addition, removal, or contextualization of names and images are neither the sole nor the primary ways by which the University fulfills its aspirations to become more fully inclusive to people from all backgrounds.
- A decision to rename should be exceptional. Renaming should occur only under exceptional circumstances, informed and constrained by established and clear criteria. These criteria, which are largely drawn from the report of the Yale Committee on Principles to Establish Renaming, are:
- Is a central part of the legacy of the namesake fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University?
- Was the relevant central part of the legacy significantly contested in the time and place in which the namesake lived, or significantly out of step with the standards of the namesake’s time?
- Did the University, at the time of a naming, honor a namesake for reasons that are fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University?
- Does a building or program whose namesake has a central legacy fundamentally at odds with the University’s mission play a substantial role in forming community at the University?
- The University should have a bold vision for diversifying campus narratives and imagery. The University should take a bold, proactive approach to recounting all dimensions of its history, diversifying its institutional narratives, and broadening the range of images that it displays.
- Renaming decisions should be governed by a clear, inclusive, and rigorous process. The processes by which the University considers questions about particular names or images should be clearly articulated and publicly known, open to community input, and informed by scholarship.
The Committee and Its Process
Chaired by Trustee Craig Robinson ’83, the ad hoc committee was composed of 11 trustees, two administrators, four faculty members, two undergraduate students, one graduate student, and one alumnus (see Appendix A for committee charge and Appendix B for committee membership). Over the course of the 2020-21 academic year, it met seven times by Zoom. The committee dedicated special attention to gathering a broad range of views and perspectives on 3 the issues before it, holding 14 listening sessions that were attended by more than 150 members of the Princeton community, including students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The committee also established a website through which members of the University community could share their perspectives on the questions in the committee’s charge; it received around 50 comments through the webform.
The views shared with the committee covered the spectrum. Some said the University should never rename anything from the past; some said the University should be open to renaming buildings or spaces on a regular schedule (on the order of every 50 to 100 years); many expressed opinions that fell somewhere in between. We heard concerns about erasing history, and we heard concerns about preserving names and symbols that could harm students and faculty on our campus. Princetonians with a wide range of opinions about renaming were aligned in telling us that while these issues are important, they must be part of a much broader set of University initiatives and commitments to make Princeton more inclusive. There was strong and consistent support for a clearly defined and publicly known process to consider questions about renaming and changing iconography.
The committee also met with an interdisciplinary group of scholars with expertise in fields including ethics, history, and psychology for a comprehensive and exceptionally helpful discussion about its charge. Political theorist Danielle Allen ’93, the James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, co-chaired Harvard’s Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging and is a former University trustee. Social psychologist Claude Steele, professor of psychology at Stanford University, is best known for his path breaking research on stereotype threat. John Witt, the Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School, focuses his research and teaching on the history of American law; he chaired Yale’s Committee on Principles to Govern Renaming in 2016.
We enthusiastically drew on the discussion in developing our recommendations. Several themes in our conversation with Professors Allen, Steele, and Witt were particularly resonant. First, the names, images, and symbols on a college campus can have a real and significant impact on the extent to which different individuals and groups feel included and welcome on the campus and in the community. Expanding the range of who is visible and used to represent core values is a powerful way to make a university more inclusive and increase the sense of belonging among students, faculty, staff, and alumni from all backgrounds. Second, universities can simultaneously recognize and value their history while being honest and transparent about the significant failures and wrongs in their pasts. There is a range of options for how to address this tension that can be best explored outside moments of crisis. Third, there is great value in establishing a clear process for considering questions about renaming that engages the community.
Our committee also spent time discussing the distinctions between donor-requested namings and honorific namings on our campus, and exploring how such distinctions ought to inform the consideration of questions about renaming.
The Board of Trustees exercises its authority over the addition of donor-requested and honorific namings pursuant to the standards and procedures articulated in the University’s Policy on Naming of Programs, Positions, and Spaces (see Appendix C). As donor-requested namings and honorific namings serve different purposes, the board has separate standards to determine when proposed names should be approved and added to our campus. For example, the policy specifies that, in the case of donor-requested namings, “a proposed name that is the donor’s own name or the name of a person closely related to the donor…should be presumed to be in the University’s overall best interests unless the person in question has a known record of criminality, injustice, or other malfeasance of a character that would make it inappropriate for the University to benefit from or establish a long-term association with the person.” In the case of honorific namings, all such proposed namings “must advance University values and policies… Honorific namings for people should recognize rare or exceptional levels of achievement, contributions to the University, and/or commitments to advance core University values.”
When the University considers whether to put a donor’s name on a University program, position, or space, it first conducts due diligence to ensure that the naming would be consistent with its policies. When the University approves a donor-requested naming, it does so to recognize the individual’s support to advance the University’s educational mission, rather than the individual’s achievements. Honorific namings bestowed by the University recognize an individual’s achievements, contributions, or advancement of University values. Honorific namings may be understood to imply that the honoree should serve as a model for members of the community, and they are often interpreted as affirming an individual’s character, values, or behavior.
The University’s Policy on Naming governs the addition of names to programs, spaces, and positions; it does not address questions about renaming. Such matters are the focus of this committee’s recommendations. Given that different standards govern the board’s decisions about when to add donor-requested and honorific namings, certain criteria we propose to govern decisions about when to remove names may likewise apply differently to the two types of namings. The considerations are different when the basis of a naming was to recognize a gift rather than to honor someone’s legacy.
For example, one of our proposed criteria to govern decisions about renaming asks, “Did the University, at the time of a naming, honor a namesake for reasons that are fundamentally at odds with the current mission of the University?” Donor-requested namings do not honor their namesakes’ achievements, but rather recognize the namesake’s support for a University initiative. For that reason, it is highly unlikely that the University’s reasons for recognizing a donor would be at odds with the current mission of the University.
We believe that it is appropriate for our proposed criteria to apply differently to donor-requested and honorific namings, given that the underlying reasons for which the two types of namings are authorized by the board are not the same. We also believe that the proposed principles and criteria contain the necessary flexibility to govern future decision-making about both types of naming. Finally, we note that any decisions about renaming by the Board of Trustees must be consistent with legal commitments that the University previously made in gift agreements with donors.
Proposed Principles, Criteria, and Recommendations
The following principles, criteria, and recommendations are intended to provide guidelines for the University’s decision-making about naming, renaming, and changing campus iconography. They are not intended to be applied mechanically. Those who use them will need to exercise judgment as they weigh multiple factors and consider questions that rarely have clear-cut answers.
Principle 1: Naming decisions must be grounded in the University’s mission and core values. Decisions about naming, renaming, and changing campus iconography must be made with due regard for the University’s educational mission and core values, including its commitments to teaching and research of unsurpassed quality, to truth-seeking, and to inclusivity.
Princeton’s mission statement declares that the University will “advanc[e] learning through scholarship, research, and teaching of unsurpassed quality, with an emphasis on undergraduate and doctoral education that is distinctive among the world’s great universities, and with a pervasive commitment to serve the nation and the world.”
This mission should animate University decision-making about naming, renaming, and changing campus iconography. When considering specific questions, the University must be mindful of the reasons for which the names or iconography were added to its campus. Some names were added to recognize gifts that advanced aspects of Princeton’s teaching and research mission; others were added to honor those who exemplified the University’s values or made significant contributions to help the University become what it is today. Both types of naming connect to the University’s mission, though in different ways.
The University’s decisions about naming, renaming, and changing campus iconography must remain grounded in its core values, including its commitments to teaching and research of unsurpassed quality, truth-seeking, free inquiry, mutual respect, and the inclusion of students, faculty, and staff with a broad range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. We appreciate that these core values may evolve over time. For example, today’s commitment to inclusivity is a marked and essential change from our values a century ago. The University must also remain true to the commitments it makes in gift agreements with donors. When faced with any renaming decision, Princeton must consider carefully whether decisions to retain or remove particular names or iconography harm its abilities to advance its teaching and research mission, or to ensure that faculty, students, staff, and alumni from all backgrounds and groups are welcomed, engaged, and able to flourish on Princeton’s campus.
In light of its commitment to scholarship, education, and truth-seeking, the University should neither deify nor demonize leaders or donors from generations past or present; it must recognize their achievements and contributions honestly and gratefully without denying or ignoring their failures and flaws. Princeton should also endeavor to recount its plural histories in ways that enable all of its community members to see themselves reflected in the University’s iconography.
Principle 2: Naming decisions complement and supplement other initiatives to achieve equity and inclusivity. Names and symbols matter to our campus and community, but the addition, removal, or contextualization of names and images are neither the sole nor the primary ways by which the University fulfills its aspirations to become more fully inclusive to people from all backgrounds.
The establishment of this ad hoc committee was one of a number of initiatives that the University announced in September 2020 to make Princeton more fully inclusive and to combat systemic racism. Our work must be considered in that context. The full suite of initiatives— which include enhancing efforts to diversify the faculty and faculty pipeline; exploring ways to extend Princeton’s teaching to a new range of students from communities disproportionately affected by systemic racism and related forms of disadvantage; and strengthening support for ongoing anti-racism and diversity-related professional development and other educational opportunities for the campus community—is necessary for Princeton to achieve racial equity and fulfill its commitment to inclusivity.
The University’s decisions and actions about naming, renaming, and contextualization matter, but they must be integrated into a much broader set of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Names on buildings and other prominent spaces help to define and illuminate our institutional narratives, as do the images and iconography across our campus. They help us recognize those who helped to create the University we are today—whether through actions taken, resources contributed, or leadership demonstrated.
In recent years, we have seen important progress as our campus tapestry of names has become more diverse. The addition of honorific namings for Toni Morrison, Sir Arthur Lewis, James Collins Johnson, Betsey Stockton, and others on the Princeton University campus has been a valuable endeavor. We have also been fortunate to recognize, with the addition of their names to our campus, the tremendous generosity of alumni from a range of backgrounds who have made gifts to advance our institutional priorities. We have commissioned new portraits that celebrate extraordinary Princetonians who reflect our community’s diversity. We have installed new markers and sculptures, commemorating both positive and negative aspects of the University’s history. As we explain more thoroughly later in this report, we believe this work must not only be continued, but also expanded and accelerated.
Princeton has also removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from its policy school and what is now First College. Though the decisions remain controversial, we believe that these exceptional changes, and the discussions about Wilson that accompanied them, have simultaneously reinforced Princeton’s values and heightened attention to the complexities of our history.
These initiatives around naming have produced important benefits, but the University should recognize that—while efforts to add, remove, or contextualize names and symbols are necessary and important—such symbolic actions are not the sole or even the primary ways in which the University fulfills its aspirations to be more fully inclusive.
Principle 3: A decision to rename should be exceptional. Renaming should occur only under exceptional circumstances, informed and constrained by established and clear criteria.
In developing criteria to inform decision-making about renaming, the committee was fortunate to benefit from strong, congruent precedents on which it could model its recommendations. We appreciate the thoughtful work previously done at Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, among other institutions, in establishing useful frameworks for considering questions about renaming.
This committee reviewed those frameworks carefully. We found them to be effective, thoughtful, and fair. They reflect values shared by this University.
We noted that, although not identical to one another, the frameworks were largely convergent in their content: they differed in nuance and detail, not in basic premises or principles. To the extent that they have been employed to guide decision-making, they appear to have served their communities well. We accordingly saw no reason to reinvent the wheel. We have relied heavily on these precedents to guide our own recommendations.
The Yale, Stanford, and UNC frameworks all begin from a general presumption against removing names. The Princeton University Board of Trustees also articulated that presumption when it first considered questions about Wilson’s legacy in 2016, and reaffirmed it last year when it removed Wilson’s name from the School of Public and International Affairs and from what is now First College. President Eisgruber’s June 2020 message to the Princeton community noted the board’s continued adherence to the “presumption that names adopted by the trustees after full and thoughtful deliberation…will remain in place, especially when the original reasons for adopting the names remain valid.”
The same message drew attention to two specific factors that justified overriding that presumption in Wilson’s case.
First, Wilson’s racism could not be excused on the ground that he was “a man of his time.” He proactively took the nation backward on race by segregating the federal civil service, which had been integrated since the Lincoln administration.
Second, Wilson’s name was not on a building. It was instead on the School of Public and International Affairs and on a residential college. By making Wilson the honorary namesake for a policy school, Princeton inevitably suggested that his political career and policies were a model for students who studied there. Likewise, because of Wilson’s role as the honorary namesake for a residential college, his name and biography affected the identity of the college community.
Multiple considerations support the widely shared presumption against renaming. All human beings are complex, and all human beings are flawed. We should not expect those who came before us to have been entirely good. Nor should future generations have such impossible expectations for us—we would inevitably fall short. Humility, or what Yale’s John Witt called “moral modesty,” counsels us against the temptation to pass judgment upon our fellow human beings. “Moral modesty” not only restrains us from calling people out for their flaws, but also encourages us to recognize the contributions made to the University by people with serious failings: this University and every other institution must depend on the good work of flawed people because that is all that humanity can provide.
Additionally, the University’s long history and intergenerational community are important to who we are today and to what Princeton will become in the future. As a university, we have an obligation to tell the truth about our history and about the complexities of human nature. We must understand and be transparent about both the beauty and the ugliness of our past. We should remember those who came before us and helped to build this institution, even though they were inevitably imperfect as are we today. We should also recognize that the ties that bind Princetonians across generations will continue to benefit future graduates of the University and increase Princeton’s impact in the world.
For these reasons, acknowledging the past from which we have evolved is consistent with our mission, even if that past does not always fully align with our current mission. We should accordingly preserve the names, signs, and indicia of the people who were important to the University in the past—most especially those who were originally recognized for their service to Princeton or the resources they provided to advance our mission—except in very unusual cases when names or images are deployed in ways that contradict the University’s institutional values.
While we believe that renaming should occur only in exceptional circumstances, the presumption against renaming does not imply a conclusion in any particular case. For example, the decisions about Wilson’s name occurred over multiple iterations that spanned significant moments at this University and in the nation. The removal of the name from the policy school and the residential college remains controversial—but we believe that it was ultimately correct and beneficial to our campus and community.
Criteria to Govern Questions about Renaming and Changing Campus Iconography
After articulating their reasons for embracing the presumption against renaming, the committees at Yale, Stanford, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill sought to articulate criteria to identify the rare circumstances in which renaming would be appropriate. As previously noted, these criteria are broadly convergent. All three committees endeavored to combine humility or “moral modesty” with historical perspective, careful attention to the achievements and failures of the historical individual at issue, and a due regard for the defining values of their universities.
Though each framework has its virtues, we thought the articulation of questions and rationales in the Yale University report was compelling and well suited to Princeton’s circumstances. We accordingly recommend that the following questions, drawn from the Yale report and edited modestly, guide Princeton’s Board of Trustees in future decisions (pursuant to the process spelled out later in this report). Any or all of the proposed criteria may be relevant to a particular case. Those who employ the criteria will need to determine the relative weight to assign each of them in any given instance.
1. Is a central part of the legacy of the namesake fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University?
As noted above, all human beings are complex, and all are flawed. The presumption against renaming is weaker when an individual’s repugnant or offensive behavior is a central part of their legacy. Rigorous research about particular namesakes will be critical to determining the centrality of the behavior to the particular legacy.
The University’s consideration of Wilson’s legacy demonstrates the challenges inherent to such assessment and also illustrates the ways in which the understanding of an individual’s legacy and its impact may evolve over time. In 2015-16, the Wilson Legacy Review Committee invited numerous scholars and biographers with relevant expertise to share their understandings of Wilson and his legacy. It held small group discussions with University community members and received more than 600 submissions through its website. The committee acknowledged some aspects of Wilson’s legacy were deeply wrong and contradictory to the values and views we hold today. However, the committee ultimately concluded, and the board agreed, that Wilson’s name should remain on the policy school, the residential college, and the alumni award for the reasons it had been adopted, reasons that pertained to Wilson’s achievements in foreign policy and his improvements to the University.
The board revisited this question in June 2020 as our nation reckoned again with its legacy of racism. That reckoning highlighted an urgent need to demonstrate a clear and unequivocal commitment to stand against racism and for equality and justice. After considering both the national context and the University’s aspirations, the board determined that the continued use of Wilson’s name did not reflect those values and instead impeded the University’s capacity to pursue its mission.
The board acknowledged that members of the Princeton community might reach varying judgments if they were to weigh Wilson’s achievements against his failures. It ultimately determined, however, that whatever Wilson’s other accomplishments, the University’s decision about the use of his name ought to give great weight to his racism, including in particular his role in segregating the nation’s civil service. More specifically, given the enduring importance of the quest for racial equality to both our nation and to the University’s mission, the segregation of the federal civil service, which had lasting and far-reaching consequences, had to be regarded as one central part of Wilson’s legacy, even if that legacy included notable achievements. In making its decision, the board acknowledged that, over time, different aspects of Wilson’s career and policies had come to assume greater importance.
2. Was the relevant central part of the legacy significantly contested in the time and place in which the namesake lived, or significantly out of step with the standards of the namesake’s time?
The presumption against renaming is weaker when an individual exhibited behavior that was significantly contested during their lifetime, or took actions that worked against progress that had been made to advance equity and inclusivity. Wilson’s actions to segregate the federal civil service, for example, cannot be excused by reference to the standards of the time in which he lived. The civil service had been racially integrated for decades, and the Wilson administration’s actions were controversial and regressive in the politics of his own day.
The question of whether a legacy was “significantly contested” is not an easy one to answer. This makes it all the more important that any process to consider questions about a particular name must aim for inclusive assessment and draw on diverse sources and expertise, including the voices of those who have been enslaved, abused, or marginalized.
3. Did the University, at the time of a naming, honor a namesake for reasons that are fundamentally at odds with the current mission of the University?
As noted earlier in our report, this criterion will apply differently to donor-requested namings and honorific namings and is more applicable to the latter. The case for renaming becomes stronger when the University honored a namesake for actions or achievements that are inconsistent with Princeton’s current mission. Namings that recognize a donor’s support for a particular University initiative or project, rather than an individual’s actions or achievements, are unlikely to have been authorized for reasons that are at odds with the mission of the University.
As noted earlier in our report, multiple factors must be weighed as the University considers whether to remove a name. Here again our experience with Wilson’s legacy provides a useful example. When the University decided to recognize Wilson with honorific namings for the residential college and the policy school, it did not do so for reasons inconsistent with its mission. Rather, the names recognized Wilson’s contributions to the University and the alignment between many of his views and actions and many of our institutional values and aspirations. Despite that alignment, in 2020 the board chose to remove Wilson’s name from the school and the college. In the board’s judgment, with which we agree, other considerations and criteria (as described above) outweighed the reasons for which Wilson was originally honored by the University.
4. Does a building or program whose namesake has a central legacy fundamentally at odds with the University’s current mission play a substantial role in forming community at the University?
If the namesake of a building or program that plays a substantial role in forming community at the University, such as a residential college or school, has a central legacy that is at odds with the University’s mission, the presumption against renaming is weaker. A problematic namesake in such instances is more likely to hinder the University’s ability to advance its teaching and research mission. It also has greater potential to harm members of the community by making it more difficult or impossible for them to flourish on our campus and participate equally and fully in the life of the University. Such considerations were critical in the University’s 2020 decision to remove Wilson’s name from the policy school and residential college that bore it.
Like the Yale committee, we believe that the decision to alter or retain a name may be accompanied by important explanatory obligations:
- When a name is altered, there are obligations on the University to ensure that removal does not have the effect of erasing history.
- When a name is retained, there may be obligations on the University to ensure that preservation does not have the effect of distorting history.
Principle 4: The University should have a bold vision for diversifying campus narratives and imagery. The University should take a bold, proactive approach to recounting all dimensions of its history, diversifying its institutional narratives, and broadening the range of images that it displays.
Our charge asked us to develop general principles not only about renaming but also about when and under what circumstances it might be appropriate for the University to contextualize the names and representations of historical individuals honored on the Princeton campus.
After deliberating about this topic, we ultimately agreed that “contextualization” is an ambiguous term that conflates multiple distinct issues. We accordingly frame our recommendations in terms of the expansion of campus imagery, the scholarly development of university history, and the appropriately even-handed description of campus figures.
Committee members agreed emphatically and enthusiastically that the University should accelerate its efforts to add to and expand the range of names, images, and symbols on our campus that illustrate our institutional narratives. This would include: a proactive approach to updating University pictures, imagery, and displays; continued expansion of the names represented on campus; support for scholarly initiatives like “the Princeton and Slavery Project”; and efforts to make sure that when we use names or people to tell the story of Princeton’s past, we do so impartially.
To support a proactive approach, we recommend that the University empower and encourage departments and colleges to update or refresh imagery regularly, with the expectation that it will be temporary rather than permanent. These changes have the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of many members of our campus community.
For example, Professor Claude Steele spoke to our committee about how images and iconography on a campus can reinforce negative stereotypes about particular identities and thereby affect an individual’s sense of belonging or performance. He shared an anecdote about an academic department that lined one of its hallways with portraits of eminent scholars—every one of whom was a white male. He pointed out that some students might infer from those pictures that they did not belong in the department.
Though issues of this kind typically attract far less attention than controversies about renaming, our committee believed them to be highly significant. Names have impact because of the history connected to them; students passing a portrait gallery in which they can’t see themselves reflected may feel excluded by the display even without knowing who the portrait subjects are.
The impact can be great, and the solution may be straightforward and inclusive. The department need not take portraits down to remedy the problem. It could instead weave them together with additional portraits to produce a collection more representative of its values, its current community, and its aspirations for the future. For that reason, by contrast to renaming, which requires caution or “moral modesty,” efforts to refresh or rotate campus decoration or imagery would benefit from boldness or “imaginative ambition.”
For similar reasons, we recommend the establishment of a periodic review policy applicable to prominent elements of our Campus Art collection, which includes a range of sculptures and installations across campus. There is no need to suppose that all artwork must move or rotate regularly; some pieces are designed for or are uniquely appropriate to their current locations. Yet, conversely, there is also no reason to suppose that once installed artworks must remain in place in perpetuity. Indeed, some artworks have been successfully relocated already.
As noted earlier in this report, we regard the expansion and diversification of honorific namings on campus as highly beneficial. We accordingly recommended revisions to the University’s Policy on Naming to broaden the range of individuals and events that might be recognized with such namings. We also recommended that the University should expand the remit of the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming so that it can proactively propose to the board individuals and milestones that might be recognized with honorific namings or other appropriate measures, rather than limiting its recommendations to a small number of spaces that have been referred to it by the board in any given year.
The committee spent some time discussing the potential uses of explanatory plaques, historical markers or sculpture, and sponsored scholarly projects. We believe that the most successful such endeavor was Professor Martha Sandweiss’s “Princeton and Slavery Project”. Many members of our community cited the Sandweiss initiative as a model for the future. The project, which helped to contextualize the University’s past, described its goals as follows:
Princeton University, founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746, exemplifies the central paradox of American history. From the start, liberty and slavery were intertwined. The Princeton and Slavery Project investigates the University’s involvement with the institution of slavery.
Notably, the project was about Princeton University as a whole, as opposed to focused on particular individuals at Princeton. It was also decidedly non-judgmental: its purpose was to exhibit how Princeton “exemplifies the central paradox of American history,” not to expose the University as particularly bad or good in some way. Rigorous scholarly projects such as this one advance our mission, tell our story more honestly, and engage our community.
We believe that the University should ensure that funding continues to be available to support this kind of project about the University’s history. Their scholarly character makes them especially consistent with Princeton’s mission, and their active, dynamic form enhances their educational impact.
We were less enthusiastic about the use of plaques and markers, which tend to express a static, reductive view and may, despite our very best intentions, promote an orthodoxy of one kind or another. In this regard, the “Double Sights” sculpture on Scudder Plaza provides a useful cautionary tale.
The University attempted to create an impartial and official contextualization of Wilson’s legacy in the “Double Sights” marker. The Wilson Legacy Review Committee recommended the creation of a marker to highlight all aspects, good and bad, of Wilson’s legacy at Princeton. A diverse committee of faculty, students, staff, and alumni engaged in a robust, consultative process to select a design. It chose the acclaimed artist Walter Hood to create a sculpture. Hood again sought broad input from the University community about the didactic content of the installation.
Despite this thorough and inclusive process, the installation has been controversial. Some members of the community appreciate the artwork tremendously, but others have objected to it as another glorification of Wilson. The University has had to create signage to explain the sculpture’s purpose—in effect thereby contextualizing the contextualization of Wilson’s name and history. We believe that this story speaks to the challenging nature of any effort to create an official, permanent explanation of any historical figure’s legacy.
Finally, we caution that the University must be careful if and when it uses names or people to tell the story of Princeton’s past, as it did until recently with the name of Woodrow Wilson. If Princeton uses names in this way, it must be certain to do so impartially. Universities should avoid canonizing or deifying people—our obligation is to tell the truth about people and their legacies, not to hold them up as idols. This caution may be especially important for how we talk about those whom we have recognized with honorific namings.
For the most part, Princeton does not use the names of buildings and colleges in this way. Our signage is spare. Facilities rarely have any text describing, much less praising, the lives or deeds of the people for which they are named. In a few cases, there is a portrait or a bust of a donor or honoree, usually without much explanation. We think that this reticence is wise. Great care should be taken when departing from it.
Principle 5: Renaming decisions should be governed by a clear, inclusive, and rigorous process. The processes by which the University considers questions about particular names or images should be clearly articulated and publicly known, open to community input, and informed by scholarship.
We heard a broad range of perspectives and views on the issues before the committee in our listening sessions and through our website, but there was remarkable consistency in what we heard about the processes that the University should use to consider questions about renaming and contextualization. There was significant support for a process that is clearly articulated and publicly known, open to community input, and informed by scholarship and expertise.
We believe it should be possible for questions about particular names and iconography to arise in a number of ways. Avenues might include: educational projects or classes; the deliberations of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) Committee on Naming; community interest in a particular name, image, or monument; or a referral from the Board of Trustees.
We recommend that significant questions or concerns about particular names or iconography that emerge, whether through the channels described above or otherwise, should be referred to the CPUC Committee on Naming by members of the community at any time. In making their referrals, community members would be encouraged to explain the concern in question and how it relates to the criteria proposed earlier in this report. A standard form on the committee’s website could provide an avenue for community members to contact the committee directly and help to ensure a degree of consistency across submissions.
The University’s established guidelines for the CPUC Resources Committee’s consideration of questions about divestment and dissociation provide a useful model for when the CPUC Naming Committee should take up a particular question that comes before it. Specifically, we recommend that there should be “thoughtful and sustained campus interest” in a particular name or representation on the campus for the CPUC Naming Committee to begin a formal study of a particular issue.
As the Board of Trustees has the ultimate authority over questions about naming, should the CPUC Committee on Naming decide to launch a formal review of a name or form of campus iconography, there should be several touchpoints throughout the deliberative process for the CPUC Committee on Naming to discuss its research and considerations with the board and gather input from trustees. Given the complexities of the issues, in some instances multi-year deliberation may be not only appropriate but indeed desirable. Decisions to remove a name should not be made lightly or quickly.
The CPUC Committee on Naming would evaluate questions with consideration of the principles and criteria outlined in this report and informed by rigorous research and the appropriate scholarly expertise within and beyond the University community. Input from the broad University community would also be invited and encouraged.
Any recommendations about specific names or iconography proposed by the CPUC Committee on Naming would ultimately be referred to the full Board of Trustees for a final decision. Any such decisions by the Board of Trustees must be consistent with legal commitments that the University previously made in gift agreements with donors, in accordance with the Policy on Naming of Programs, Positions, and Spaces.
The University’s mission and core values lie at the heart of its decisions about naming, renaming, and changing campus iconography. We must remain true to our commitments to truth-seeking, free inquiry, mutual respect, and inclusivity when we consider questions about these issues. We must also recognize that efforts to add, change, or remove names and iconography on our campus, while important to our community, are not sufficient—and not most important—for the University to realize its aspirations to become fully inclusive and achieve racial equity. They must be part of a broader set of initiatives that help to dismantle systemic barriers to inclusion and justice on our campus and beyond.
We reaffirm that renaming should occur only in exceptional circumstances, and we are proud of the University for taking steps to establish clear criteria and processes that will guide decision-making if and when questions about the names and symbols on our campus arise in the future. Finally, we enthusiastically encourage the University to be bold and proactive in its ongoing efforts to tell and represent all dimensions of its history and to broaden and diversify its institutional narratives and symbols.
We hope that these principles and criteria will serve the University well into the future. We also recognize that, like decisions about naming and renaming, they are the product of a particular moment in time and are shaped by the current context on our campus and beyond. Should the board adopt our proposed principles and recommendations, we encourage it to revisit them in five to ten years. At that point, informed by experience, it could reflect upon their usefulness and consider whether revisions would be beneficial for the University.
Policy on Naming of Programs, Positions, and Spaces
- Programs include, without being limited to, schools, centers, departments, and other academic units; scholarships and fellowships; initiatives; funds; lectures; and other forms of activity or funding associated with academic or extra-curricular programming.
- Positions include, without being limited to, professorships, preceptorships, administrative or coaching appointments, directorships, deanships, and any other status, job, or title.
- Spaces include, without being limited to, buildings, rooms, gardens, quadrangles, walkways, equipment, benches, and other physical structures or locations.
- A naming is donor-requested if a donor requests the name in connection with making a gift at the level specified by the University for naming the program, position, or space in question.
- A naming is honorific if not supported by a gift at the naming level.
- The TCA is the Trustee Committee on Advancement of the Princeton University Board of Trustees.
- The CPUC Committee on Naming (CPUC-CN) is a committee of the CPUC to be created for the purpose of carrying out the responsibilities described below.
The Board of Trustees of Princeton University has sole authority over the naming of programs, positions, spaces, and other entities operated, maintained, or owned by Princeton University. The Trustees will in general exercise that authority pursuant to this policy. The Trustees reserve the authority to change the policy or to make exceptions to it when they deem it appropriate to do so.
III. Donor-Requested Namings
Princeton University has long recognized the generosity of alumni and friends by naming programs, positions, spaces, and other entities in their honor. Because the goal of such naming is to recognize donors’ support, the University’s strong preference is that the names of these entities reflect the names of the donors themselves. Alternatively, donors may request that the name honor the donors’ family members or close friends, or the donors’ graduating classes if they are alumni. The standards below reflect this strong preference.
- Donor-requested namings. When a donor makes a gift at the naming level specified by the University for a particular program, position, or space, the donor may propose a name for that program, position, or space. The donor’s preferred name should be approved, provided that it is consistent with the overall best interests of the University, where those interests include and take into account the University’s interest in attracting gifts to support its mission. The following guidelines and presumptions apply to the determination of consistency with the overall best interests of the University:
- If the proposed name is either the donor’s own name, the name of a person closely related to the donor, or the name of another individual who is not a public or historical figure and not a current employee of the University, then the naming should be presumed to be in the University’s overall best interests unless the person in question has a known record of criminality, injustice, or other malfeasance of a character that would make it inappropriate for the University to benefit from or establish a long-term association with the person. (This provision does not apply to instances in which a corporation or other organization seeks to name something for itself; for such gifts, see section III.A.1.d below).
- If the donor proposes to name a program, position, or space after a Princeton University graduating class (e.g., “The Class of 1976 Hall”), the name is presumed to be in the University’s overall best interests.
- Donors may not name a program (with the exception of an undergraduate scholarship or a graduate fellowship), position, or space after a public or historical figure (other than the donors themselves). Donors may request that an undergraduate scholarship or graduate fellowship be named for a public or historical figure if the standards in section III.A.1.a above are met, and also either the public or historical figure has a substantial connection to Princeton, or the use of the public figure’s name would advance University values in the sense described by section IV.A.1 below.
- If the donor proposes to name a program, position, or space after a country or other geographical location, corporation, foundation, or other non-human entity, then the naming is consistent with the University’s overall best interests only if the entity both does not have a record of criminality, injustice, or other malfeasance of a character that would make it inappropriate for the University to benefit from or establish a long-term association with the entity, and the entity is also sufficiently stable that it is reasonable for the University to take whatever risks may be involved in establishing a long-term relationship with the entity. Because countries, governments, and political bodies may undergo dramatic change and commit dramatic injustices, there is a presumption against naming programs, positions, or spaces after them.
- If the donor proposes a name that is a not encompassed by the categories listed above, including concepts, phrases, or works of art, there is a strong presumption against naming programs, positions, or spaces after them. Such requests would be subject to review by the CPUC-CN and should be in the University’s overall best interests and not subject to copyright or trademark restrictions.
- If the donor wishes to delay the use of the approved name for a program, position, or space for a specific or undetermined period of time and instead use a temporary name, then both the permanent and the temporary name must meet all the conditions described herein and be approved by the TCA.
- Even when the above standards are met, the University reserves the authority to edit proposed names to conform to University practices with regard to the style, length, presentation of names, or description of program, space or activity.
- The University also reserves the authority to consider other unforeseen factors as they may arise.
- The TCA has sole and complete authority to decide whether names meet the standards for naming articulated in paragraph 1 above. If the standards of section III.A.1.a-b are applicable, the TCA will in general implement the standards in consultation with the president and the University administration.
- If the standards of section III.A.1.c-d above are applicable, the president or the president’s designee will refer the proposed name to the CPUC-CN for a confidential advisory opinion about whether the proposed naming is consistent with the standards described in those paragraphs. The proposed naming, along with the CPUC-CN’s opinion, will then be submitted to the TCA. The TCA will give serious consideration to the CPUC-CN’s opinion when deciding whether to accept or to reject the proposed naming.
- Before using any donor-requested name, the University must obtain all legally required or ethically appropriate permissions related to the use of the name (for example, before naming anything after a living person, the University must obtain that person’s consent).
IV. Honorific Namings
- Honorific namings. An honorific naming (that is, a naming not supported by a gift at the naming level) must advance University values and policies.
- Honorific namings for people should recognize rare or exceptional levels of achievement, contributions to the University, and/or commitments to advance core University values. Those so honored should have to their credit achievements or virtues that the University hopes its students would seek to emulate.
- Honorific namings may also recognize or memorialize historical events or milestones in the University’s history.
- As the University expands the portfolio of honorific namings on campus, it should take into account the University’s aspiration to be diverse and inclusive. While not every honorific naming need increase the diversity of campus names, the overall trajectory of such namings should do so.
- Before using any honorific name, the University must obtain all legally required or ethically appropriate permissions related to the use of the name (for example, before naming anything after a living person, the University must obtain that person’s consent).
- The TCA may, on its own initiative or after a proposal from the president or the provost of the University, refer programs, positions, or spaces to the CPUC-CN for advice about honorific naming. When doing so, the TCA may either suggest a specific name for the program, position, or space, or it may ask the CPUC-CN to propose a name.
- When the TCA proposes a name for the program, position, or space, the CPUC-CN will consider whether the proposed naming is consistent with the standard set forth in section IV.A.1 above and provide the TCA with its advice about that question. Unless the TCA specifies otherwise, both its inquiry to the CPUC-CN and that committee’s reply should remain fully confidential. The TCA has sole and complete authority to decide whether to proceed with the proposed naming, but it should exercise that authority with a presumption in favor of following the CPUC-CN’s advice.
- When the TCA asks the CPUC-CN to propose a name for a program, position, or space, the CPUC-CN should recommend to the TCA a name that, in the judgment of CPUC-CN, is consistent with the standards set forth in section IV.A.1. Unless the TCA specifies otherwise, the CPUC-CN may and in general should solicit public input about potential names for the programs, positions, or spaces under consideration, but both the CPUC-CN’s deliberations about the naming and its eventual recommendations to the TCA should remain confidential. The TCA has sole and complete authority to decide whether to accept the CPUC-CN’s recommendation, but it will in general exercise its authority with a presumption in favor of following the CPUC-CN’s recommendation.
- Heads of academic and administrative units may propose names for University programs or spaces that are currently unnamed by submitting a proposal to the University provost, but in so doing they should be aware that such honorific namings are rare and the standards for them are demanding. The provost will determine whether the proposed naming should be referred to the TCA for further consideration pursuant to the standards specified in section IV.A.1.a above. In making this determination, the provost may choose to consult with the Academic Planning Group, the vice president for Advancement, and any other relevant cabinet officers. The provost will take into account, among other factors, the following policies and presumptions when deciding whether to refer a submission to the TCA for further action:
- In general, the University does not name programs, positions, or spaces for a person unless a donor has made a gift to secure naming rights. This policy is necessary to protect the University’s ability to continue to attract gifts to support its programs.
- In general, academic and administrative units should not propose honorific namings as a way to recognize the contributions of past or present employees, volunteers, or alumni. The University is blessed with too many such contributors to honor them with namings.
- The CPUC-CN may, on its own initiative, propose names or historical events that are consistent with the standards in section IV.A.1 above to the TCA for consideration to name programs, positions, or spaces at the University. The TCA has the authority to decide whether to accept the CPUC-CN’s recommendation and, should it choose to do so, to suggest appropriate programs, positions, or spaces that might bear the proposed names.
- Periodic consultation and reporting. In addition to delivering to the TCA any recommendations pursuant to this policy, the chair of the CPUC-CN will at least once during each academic year meet with the TCA to report on the CPUC-CN’s 6 proceedings and discuss with the TCA any issues or concerns that may have arisen over the course of the preceding year.