The Name Game

Here is a sports trivia question for you! What is the oldest rivalry in the history of American football?

If you answered Harvard vs. Yale, an annual match that is now simply known as The Game, you are not correct. Two years before the Bulldogs played their first game against the Crimson in 1875, they faced the Princeton Tigers. And they’ve been squaring off ever since.

Furthermore, the two universities have never restricted their differences to the football field. Earlier this month, for instance, Yale announced that it would bow to the demands of protestors and change the name of Calhoun College. According to many of its alumni and students, John Calhoun, a Yale graduate who aggressively defended the practice of human slavery prior to the American Civil War, is now an embarrassment to modern sensibilities.

Shortly after Yale announced this decision, protestors at Princeton asked their own university to reconsider its decision to maintain the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Wilson, a Princeton graduate who went on to serve as University President and then as the President of the United States, was an avowed racist who supported many policies that now strike us as discriminatory and bigoted.

Princeton’s response? It’s keeping the Wilson name. Its Director of Media Relations flatly stated that “Wilson’s legacy has been fully addressed by the trustees and will not be reopened.” He continued:

“Princeton’s trustees issued a report that candidly acknowledged Wilson’s views and actions with regard to race, but also recognized Wilson’s many and transformative positive contributions to the University, the nation and the world. Wilson’s legacy on our campus and beyond is very different from Calhoun’s legacy in this country and at Yale, and that led to different outcomes in applying similar principles …”

Is Princeton’s Director correct? On the one hand, it’s true that Wilson and Calhoun left very different legacies to the American nation. After all, one served as the 20th century President who led the United States into the First World War, while the other served as a Senator and Vice President during the 19th century.

Furthermore, while Wilson’s Fourteen Points For Peace are still considered an iconic work of diplomacy, Calhoun produced no policy or philosophy of similarly enduring value.

And yet the protestors aren’t denying or disparaging the lasting legacy of Woodrow Wilson. They simply believe that the naming rights of a distinguished Ivy League institution shouldn’t be granted to an unreconstituted racist. Apparently, Yale concurs with this belief.

What do you think? Do you support Yale or Princeton? Should the names of racists continue to be maintained on eminent institutions of knowledge, or should they be removed? Is it possible for an individual’s history of professional accomplishment to outweigh his attitudes of extreme racism?

Yale and Princeton have lined up on opposing sides of this political and moral football. And unlike the outcome of one of their gridiron games, the outcome of this particular face-off may impact the universities for generations.