Virtue comes at a price

For Princeton University the price may be quite steep: $75 million. That’s the amount of federal funding the university has received – fraudulently, according to a self-lacerating admission by its president, Christopher Eisgruber.

Hotbed of racism

Actually, Dr Eisgruber didn’t make that admission in so many words. He simply signalled his virtue to the outside world, saying things any respectable scholar has to say these days if he wishes to remain respectable.

The underlying assumption is as simple as truth itself. Any institution founded before the advent of new morality, one based on race, sex and sexes, is congenitally racist, homophobic and misogynist. Variously abject mea culpas are therefore de rigueur, repenting such sins singly or, depending on the situation, collectively.

In that spirit Dr Eisgruber wrote a letter to the university community in which he honestly admitted that Princeton has always been, and still remains, shaped by systemic racism.

“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,” he wrote.

Dr Eisgruber understands the essence of the modern ethos, but he hasn’t quite mastered its vocabulary. His prolix admission could have been replaced by the voluminous term ‘unconscious bias’.

Take it from someone who grew up in the Soviet Union: if you want to criminalise thought and attitudes, you must make sure any resulting indictment will be irrefutable and applicable to the whole population.

‘Unconscious bias’ is, by definition, a prejudice of which the culprit is unaware. Since the burden of proof in thought crimes is always on the accused, he can’t possibly prove that something he doesn’t know doesn’t exist. QED, off with his head, or whatever punishment is deemed appropriate in the rarefied air of the proverbial groves.

However, as I said, Dr Eisgruber’s heart is in the right place, even if his language needs work. “Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the University itself,” he continued.

Be warned: some readers may find the facts cited in support of this doleful acknowledgement too disturbing. However, if you are made of sterner stuff, brace yourself: Princeton has “at least nine departments and programs organised around European languages and culture, but only one, relatively small, program in African studies.”

Sorry, let me take a moment to settle my nerves. If that’s not a case of criminal – I insist on this adjective – racial bigotry, I don’t know what is. For what other explanation can there be for so much more attention given to European culture? This is Jim Crow all over again, with campus lynchings but a step away.

What? European culture is more significant, is that what you’re saying? Look at yourself in the mirror, you reprobate. Scowling at you is the mug of a potential Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Having typed the full stop at the end of his letter, Dr Eisgruber must have smiled with the satisfaction of a job well done. Little hobgoblins of the past slain, virtue signalled, historical sins expiated. Back to business as normal.

Er, not quite, said the US Department of Education and then the White House. DoEd stated that: “Based on its admitted racism, the U.S. Department of Education 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 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.”

Hence, wrote the triply concerned DoEd to Dr Eisgruber, “You admitted Princeton’s educational program is and for decades has been racist… The serious, even shocking nature of Princeton’s admissions compel the Department to move with all appropriate speed.”

In other words, Princeton has made fraudulent claims and tricked millions out of the government on false pretences. As a minimum, the university may have to pay the money back. As a maximum, criminal charges could be a possibility.

“Hey, wait a minute!” I hear Dr Eisgruber scream. He didn’t mean it literally! All he meant was that, when Princeton was founded almost 300 years ago, some of its trustees owned slaves, as one did in those days. That dripped drops of tar into the honey barrel of Princeton’s DNA, and the university has since been working tirelessly to purify itself.

Dr Eisgruber’s letter was the latest cleansing procedure, that’s all. Spiritual decontamination, not factual admission, can’t DoEd see it?

Too late for that. Dr Eisgruber stated his principles unequivocally and now he must bear the consequences, however unjust and unintended. Oh well, as they used to say, a principle isn’t a principle until it has cost you money.

Dr Eisgruber evokes the memory of those early Crusaders who beggared themselves for the privilege of reclaiming the Holy Land. Like them, he’ll go down in history as a selfless fighter for a noble idea. Unlike them, he’s not laying his life on the line.

Dr Eisgruber’s courageous stance may only cost his university some money and him his job. But, on the positive side, he earned my gratitude. Rare are news items these days that have made me laugh so loudly and gleefully.

2 thoughts on “Virtue comes at a price”

  1. “$75 million. That’s the amount of federal funding the university has received –”

    And what exactly is the endowment of Princeton. Magnitudes beyond $75 million I might guess. Donors ready to make up the difference if funding caught off quit numerous I might guess too.

  2. Princeton could indeed survive on its endowments. Still, $75 million is a nice piece of loose change, a shame to lose for a stupidly ideological remark. I hope Princeton’s powers that be take that view.

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