The Case of Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson throws out the first pitch on opening day, 1916. (Library of Congress)

Ross Douthat criticizes Princeton’s decision to change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The school, he writes, “wasn’t named for Wilson to honor him for being a segregationist. It was named for him because he helped create precisely the institutions that the school exists to staff — our domestic administrative state and our global foreign policy apparatus — and because he was the presidential progenitor of the idealistic, interventionist worldview that has animated that foreign policy community ever since.”

It may have seemed too obvious a point for Douthat to note, but surely the school was named for him because he was the president of the university and, moreover, the president who made it a world-class institution. The argument Douthat makes for keeping the name is an argument that would apply if it had happened to be housed at Tufts or Clemson. But the case for keeping the name is stronger than that; it’s includes another argument, akin to the one Douthat makes for keeping the name of Yale University: “The name ‘Yale’ doesn’t honor old Elihu’s slaving; it simply pays the school’s debt to him. . .”

Some years ago I was speaking at Princeton, probably for an alumni event, in a room with a gigantic portrait of Wilson. My eldest daughter, then a baby, burst into tears when she saw it, and my wife had to take her out of the room. I thought at the time that a) this was an encouraging sign of her incipient conservatism and b) Wilson wouldn’t have been any more delighted to see her there than she was to see him. But that we can have reasons to be grateful to sinful and narrow-minded men is part of an education.

The Case of Woodrow Wilson

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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