by Bob Barr
Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber is likely heaving a huge sigh of relief that the attention of the nation’s media is focused on COVID’s infestation of the White House, the Senate battle over the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and, of course, the looming national election. Were it not for these stories (and a handful of other newsworthy events such as continuing violence in one American city after another), Eisgruber’s September 2 letter openly admitting that the fabled Ivy League school engages in “systemic racism,” would be vying for front-page news coverage.
Eisgruber’s letter, however, did not escape the eye of lawyers at the U.S. Department of Education; and it should not be allowed to be swept under the rug.
Two weeks after the Princeton President’s highly unusual mea culpa, Robert King, the Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, sent a letter to the university demanding that the admissions made by Eisgruber be explained and documented. The Department gave Princeton 21 days to provide the required evidence of its self-admitted racism, and one more week after that to schedule interviews “under oath” by Eisgruber and other Princeton officials.
So far, there has been no publicly acknowledged response to the Education Department’s demand letter, other than a September 18 press release by the University stating that it “stands by” Eisgruber’s letter and would “respond” to the federal government “in due course.”
Not surprisingly also, several dozen other university presidents quickly leaped to Princeton’s defense. In a letter made public only a few days following the Education Department’s letter, presidents of the seven other Ivy League schools and dozens of other colleges and universities including, of course, uber-liberal Wesleyan University and Amherst College, blasted as “outrageous” the fact that the federal government would have the gall to demand that a sister university must actually provide evidence for the sins to which it openly admitted.
The stakes for Princeton and other schools that receive taxpayer dollars are hardly inconsequential. As noted in Assistant Secretary King’s letter, over the course of Eisgruber’s seven-year tenure at Princeton’s helm it has received “well over $75 million” in federal funds. Problematically for Princeton, however, as with other postsecondary schools receiving such monies, Princeton has been required regularly to certify that it does not engage in racial or other unlawful forms of discrimination — the very practices to which Eisgruber so blithely admitted just one month ago.
In thus placing Princeton on notice that its “woke” claims of systemic racism are, to say the least problematic and at worst clear violations of federal laws, the Trump administration is hoisting Princeton on its own petard as the Shakespearian expression colorfully describes.
If the school actually provides evidence that it has engaged in and continues to practice racially discriminatory policies, as its president has declared, it not only risks losing significant federal funds going forward, but could be liable for repayment of monies already received.
If, on the other hand, the school admits it was making the statements about systemic racism for the sole purpose of burnishing its “wokeness” credentials as a sop to leftwing activists, it will discredit not only its own leadership and pedagogy, but that of much of our country’s post-secondary education system.
The most likely outcome, at least in the short term, will be for Princeton to stall for time, hoping that November 3 will usher in new leadership at the White House and at the Department of Education; leadership that will be far more “understanding” of the rank hypocrisy deeply infecting the country’s post-secondary education system.
If Biden were to defeat Trump next month (or whenever the election results are certified), the case against Princeton will not only go away, but Eisgruber likely would be in line for promotion and for rewards in recognition of the extreme courage his woke letter exhibited. If so, it is not Eisgruber and his leftist cohorts who will suffer, but rather the deteriorating quality of education that further generations of students of all racial backgrounds will receive.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7 District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. He now serves as President of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation based in Atlanta, Georgia.