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Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy on Our Campus

Monmouth University has been evaluating Woodrow Wilson’s legacy on our campus.

After months of discussion, examination and the collection of feedback from faculty, students, and alumni, the Monmouth University Board of Trustees has voted to retain Woodrow Wilson Hall as the name of the university’s central administrative building, while requiring that significant steps be taken to ensure a comprehensive and balanced understanding of Wilson’s abhorrent legacy on race. Learn more by viewing the news release.

This decision involved balancing Wilson’s demonstrated record of service as a college president, Governor of New Jersey, 28th president of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and principal architect of the League of Nations with lesser known but well-documented controversial views on race and immigration, affirmed by actions that included denying African American students admission to Princeton University, re-segregating the federal government, and endorsing the Ku Klux Klan.

Other institutions have faced similar questions about Woodrow Wilson, and across the country people are debating the legacy of other historical figures represented on their campuses.


What steps were taken to evaluate Woodrow Wilson’s legacy on campus?

Over the past few months we have discussed and debated the role Woodrow Wilson should have on our campus. These discussions were part of a broader national conversation about negative connotations of historic figures on campuses.

A committee was formed to gather information, solicit feedback from the Monmouth University community, and prepare recommendations for the Board of Trustees. The Board has voted to retain the Woodrow Wilson Hall name on the university’s central administrative building, while requiring that significant steps be taken to ensure a comprehensive and balanced understanding of Wilson’s Wilson’s abhorrent legacy on race. Learn more by viewing the news release.

To provide detailed background of Wilson’s contributions and controversial views, faculty members presented several education sessions entitled: “Woodrow Wilson: Legacy, Memory, and Achievement.” Learn more about Woodrow Wilson, and read the transcript from that presentation.

This program invited audience members to ask questions and provide feedback on the Wilson Hall name. Listening sessions on campus and online surveys solicited feedback from students, faculty, staff, administrators and our alumni.

Did these discussions start after protests on campus?

No, this effort was not prompted by protests on campus. The move to reconsider the name of Woodrow Wilson Hall emerged from a broader exploration of race and inclusion initiated by Monmouth University President Paul R. Brown in early December 2015. The initiative on the Monmouth campus followed protests and tension at the University of Missouri, the University of Michigan, Yale, and at nearby Princeton University, which has been simultaneously grappling with Wilson’s legacy on its campus.

While there were no protests over Wilson on the Monmouth University campus, President Brown felt it was important to start a broader conversation on diversity and inclusion to better understand the campus climate through open discussion. As part of the campus-wide conversations, Brown also initiated efforts to educate the university community on Wilson’s legacy in its totality, and to solicit feedback on how the Woodrow Wilson Hall name influences the campus experience, and whether a potential change to the name would affect that experience.

What are the concerns about Woodrow Wilson’s legacy?

Despite Wilson’s contributions and achievements as a Nobel Prize recipient, president of Princeton University, governor of New Jersey, and President of the United States, many of his views on race and immigration are troubling, especially at a university dedicated to affirming the worth of every person. These competing legacies are why we began the conversations about the Wilson Hall name to discuss and debate the right path for Monmouth going forward. Learn more about Woodrow Wilson.

What is Woodrow Wilson’s connection to Monmouth University?

From a strictly historical perspective, Woodrow Wilson is closely associated with the grounds of the former Shadow Lawn Estate located on the site of our campus.  The original building where Wilson stayed in 1916 burned to the ground, and the current Wilson Hall occupies the same footprint.  There is no historic affiliation or link to Monmouth University as an institution, only to our location.

Who Is Woodrow Wilson?

Woodrow Wilson made significant contributions as a statesman, academician and leader.  He attended Princeton University and received his law degree from the University of Virginia.  He practiced law for a brief period and became a professor.  Wilson wrote five books (several expressing controversial views on racial issues), was the president of the American Political Science Association and served as president of Princeton University from 1902-1910.

He served one term as Governor of New Jersey and went on to serve two terms as the 28th President of the United States.  While Wilson tried to keep the United States neutral during World War I, he ultimately called on Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917.  After the war, he helped negotiate a peace treaty that included a plan for the League of Nations.  Although the Senate rejected U.S. membership in the League, Wilson received the Nobel Prize for his peacemaking efforts.

While he is probably best known as the architect of the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations, Wilson also spearheaded an impressive slate of legislation while in office.  His ambitious agenda of progressive reform included the establishment of the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission, and the 19 th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote was passed during his presidency.

Wilson also engaged in conduct that today would be viewed as reprehensible, including denying college admission to African American students, re-segregating the federal government, and other actions that advanced the cause of the Ku Klux Klan.

While Wilson made significant contributions as a leader, his legacy also includes troubling views and actions around race and immigration.  Because of his leadership position, Wilson was not just a person of his time who held racist views; he actively believed in white supremacy and initiated policies to advance that philosophy.

Woodrow Wilson’s connection to Monmouth University is minimal. The building on campus that bears his name was not built until after his death. Wilson did spend about six weeks in the home that had previously occupied this site during his 1916 re-election campaign, but all of that happened decades before Monmouth acquired the property. Read more about Woodrow Wilson.

Suggested Readings

The Struggle for Black Equality Bibliography – courtesy of Professor Hettie Williams

Selected Bibliography – courtesy of Walter Greason

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