President Biddy Martin Responds to Department Of Education’s Princeton Investigation

On Sept. 24, Presidents Biddy Martin of Amherst College and Michael Roth of Wesleyan University wrote a letter reproving the Department of Education’s investigation of Princeton involving racism and adherence to federal non-discrimination law.

The investigation came after Princeton President Christopher Eisburger wrote an open letter about the university’s ongoing anti-discrimination efforts, in which he recognized the role of systemic racism at the institution. 

“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,” Eisburger wrote. “Race-based inequities in America’s health care, policing, education and employment systems affect profoundly the lives of our staff, students, and faculty of color.”

“Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the university itself,” he wrote. “For example, Princeton inherits from earlier generations at least nine departments and programs organized around European languages and culture, but only a single, relatively small program in African studies.

According to the Department of Education (DOE), this was an acknowledgment of illegal behavior, a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that warranted inspection. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Federally funded programs, like many universities, are no exception.

Describing the investigation as “outrageous” and “ill-considered,” Presidents Martin and Roth voiced their disapproval in a letter last Thursday.

In the letter, Martin and Roth criticize the investigation as a waste of the country’s resources, given Princeton’s commitment to “becoming more inclusive by reckoning with the impact in the present of our shared legacies of racism.” 

The presidents also acknowledged the impact of discrimination at their own institutions, emphasizing the need to “stand together” in order to combat the racism that has and continues to affect institutions across the country.  

Their call for unity was answered in the form of 91 signatures by the presidents of colleges and universities from coast to coast, including the majority of the NESCAC conference and Ivy League.