Princeton University [has] a new public-art project that confronts the school’s participation in the nation’s early sins. On Monday, the university unveiled Impressions of Liberty, by the African American artist Titus Kaphar. The sculpture is the conceptual core of a campus-wide initiative that begins this fall and aims to reconcile the university’s ties to slavery. The Princeton and Slavery Project’s website has released hundreds of articles and primary documents about slavery and racism at Princeton…
I’m old enough to remember when George Washington was admired for freeing all of his slaves in an era when most people took slavery for granted. Today he is castigated for not having sprung from the womb with a fully modern set of moral opinions.
Impressions of Liberty is Kaphar’s portrait of Samuel Finley–fifth president and one of the original trustees of Princeton (1761-1766)–interwoven with photographs of black actors in historical dress etched in glass.
For generations, slave-owning Christians—including Princeton’s founders—used religious ideas to justify a horrific national practice, [Kaphar] noted; Finley is holding a bible in Impressions of Liberty.
Note the framing: yes, Christians used religion to justify owning slaves. So did Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, and atheists. There’s nothing unique about Christians and slavery aside from the fact that Finley was Christian. No mention is made of pagan Africans who captured and sold each other into slavery, nor of Muslims who raided Africa and Europe in search of slaves. There were Jewish slave merchants and Confederates, as well, for slavery was a near-universal practice justified by people all over the world prior to its abolition by whites in the 1800s. The article mentions none of that; only Christians are singled out for criticism.
The article doesn’t say how much Princeton paid for the sculpture it commissioned to castigate the memory of one of its founders. The work currently stands outside MacLean House, but will soon be moved indoors, to Princeton’s permanent art collection. MacLean House–completed in 1756–is a national landmark that was home to Princeton’s first presidents, including Samuel Finley. It also housed George Washington during the Battle of Princeton.
According to the article:
On the one hand, according to records, Princeton was a bastion of liberty, educating numerous Revolutionary War leaders and in 1783 hosting the Continental Congress… At the same time, Sandweiss found that the institution’s first nine presidents all owned slaves at some point, as did the school’s early trustees. She also discovered that the school enrolled a significant number of anti-abolitionist, Southern students during its early years; an alumni delivered a pro-slavery address at the school’s 1850 commencement ceremony. …
Princeton’s racist history enabled it to provide social and political benefits for alumni—an advantage that students will continue to enjoy well into the future.
While I happen to think that universities have it much too good these days and deserve to be taken down a notch, I find this claim extremely dubious. Harvard and Yale are located in staunchly abolitionist New England and had very few ties to slavery, (Mr. Yale apparently knew a guy who had slaves, and Harvard Law School received some money from a guy who had slaves,) yet these schools are arguably even wealthier and more powerful than closer-to-the-South and more-tied-to-slavery Princeton. Stanford was founded after slavery was outlawed, and yet its students enjoy social and political benefits on par with Princeton’s.
We could argue that the entire area of the Confederacy reaped the economic benefits of slavery, yet today this region is much poorer than the Free States of the North. There isn’t just no correlation between slavery, wealth, and power–there’s actually a negative correlation. Slavery, if it has any effect at all, makes a region poorer and weaker.
… Princeton University is spreading the mission across various pieces of art through a show this fall entitled “Making History Visible: Of American Myths And National Heroes.” At the exhibit’s entrance, viewers begin with Kaphar’s pieceMonumental Inversion: George Washington—a sculpture of the leader astride his horse, made out of wood, blown glass, and steel. The sculpture depicts the former president’s dueling nature: He’s glorified within a great American equestrian monument but he’s also sitting astride a charred cavity, surrounded by glass on the ground. In juxtaposing Kaphar’s artwork and a George Washington plaster bust, “Making History Visible” forces visitors, hopefully, to see and feel the contradiction in colonial leaders who sought freedom from tyranny but did not extend that ideal to slaves.
I repeat: George Washington freed all of his slaves.
We might question the point of all this. Kaphar is free to make his art, of course. His paintings display quite excellent technical skill, I admit. But why do we, as a society, feel the need to commission and display attacks on our founders? Princeton’s students could just as happily go to class each day without looking at images of Finley’s slaves; unlike Washington, Finley isn’t famous and most students were probably blissfully unaware of his slaveholding until someone decided to stick a sculpture dedicated to it on the lawn.
How do Princeton’s black students feel after walking past a sculpture depicting slaves? Uplifted? Happy? Ready to go to class and concentrate on their lectures? I doubt it. Art may be “powerful” or “open dialogues,” but no one seems to feel better after viewing such pieces.
No, I don’t see how this selective dwelling on the past improves anything.
A world in which images of your founders and heroes are defaced, their corpses judged and rusty nails are driven into their portraits: it’s like a cruel dystopia, Lewis’s That Hideous Strength or 1984. According to Wikipedia:
During and after the October Revolution, widespread destruction of religious and secular imagery took place, as well as the destruction of imagery related to the Imperial family. The Revolution was accompanied by destruction of monuments of past tsars, as well as the destruction of imperial eagles at various locations throughout Russia. According to Christopher Wharton, “In front of a Moscow cathedral, crowds cheered as the enormous statue of Tsar Alexander III was bound with ropes and gradually beaten to the ground. After a considerable amount of time, the statue was decapitated and its remaining parts were broken into rubble”.
You know, they tell us, “No one is attacking George Washington; that’s just a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory,” and then they go and do it.
Incidentally, Georgetown, according to the article, “announced last year that it would grant admissions preference to descendants of slaves whose sale it profited from in the early 1800s.” How do you qualify for that? Do you have to prove that you’re descended from the specific slaves involved, or can you be descended from any American slaves? Because I had ancestors who were enslaved, too, and I’d like to get in on this racket.
In the end, the article answers its titular question:
When Impressions of Liberty is removed from Maclean House in December and enters Princeton’s permanent museum collection, its greatest achievement may lie in the realization that no apology or recompense can ever suffice. …
“No civil-rights project can ever fully redeem anything.”
HMC employs financial professionals to manage the approximately 12,000 funds that constitute the endowment. The company directly manages about one third of the total endowment portfolio while working closely with the external companies that manage the rest. …
Jack Meyer managed HMC from 1990 to September 30, 2005, beginning with an endowment worth $4.8 billion and ending with a value of $25.9 billion (including new contributions). During the last decade of his tenure, the endowment earned an annualized return of 15.9%. …
The university hired Mohamed El-Erian to succeed Meyer as HMC’s next president and CEO. … He announced his leaving September 12, 2007 to return to PIMCO after guiding the endowment to a one-year return of 23%.
But these colleges aren’t just rich. Harvard is a brand–a famous brand.
The big-name colleges are famous for their alumni, the wealthy people whose donations to their alma maters go back into their voluminous coffers, to be invested in the stock market and pay HMC’s multi-million dollar salaries:
Jane L. Mendillo, president and CEO: $9.6 million ($4.8 million)
Stephen Blyth, head of public markets: $11.5 million ($5.3 million)
Alvaro Aguirre-Simunovic, natural-resources portfolio manager: $9.6 million ($6.6 million)
Andrew G. Wiltshire, head of alternative assets: $8.5 million ($7.9 million)
Daniel Cummings, real-estate portfolio manager: $5.4 million ($4.2 million)
Marco Barrozo, fixed-income portfolio manager: $4.8 million
Numbers for fiscal year 2013; numbers in ( ) for 2012.
All this, and colleges are still taxed as non-profits.
Getting the right students, then, is critical. What interest has Harvard (or Stanford, Yale, or Princeton, for that matter) in accepting ordinary, hard-working Americans–even exceptionally intelligent ones–who will not become rich or famous? Harvard wants future Kennedies, Bushes, Obamas and Paulsons (John A. Paulson, founder of Paulson and Co., recently gave Harvard $400 million.) Best case scenario, their students absorb Harvard’s particular brand of secular Puritanism, furthering its spread. Worst case scenario, they get a Scalia, who doesn’t share their values but still increases the value of their brand.
(Okay, the actual worst-case scenario is a Nixon, who studied at podunk Whittier College, CA, and thus didn’t help their brand at all. I’m sure you’re all familiar with how the Cathedral treated Nixon.)
People discuss Affirmative Action as though universities had some sort of obligation to–or interest in–providing education for the good of the general populace. The point of the university, though, is to make money and promote the university’s brand. Low-class universities do this via sports, pumping billions into their football programs. High-class universities do this by attaching themselves to future leaders, like Harvard graduates Sebastian Pinera, President of Chile (2010,) Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto, three Mexican presidents, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, Tanzanian PM Frederick Sumaye, etc. According to Foreign Policy Journal:
From 1945 through early 2010, 71 heads of state and government from 41 countries have attended, or earned degrees, or held a variety of special scholarships and fellowships at Harvard or Oxford. …
In the second half of the 20th century, Harvard educated more than 11 percent of the top national American political elite, compared to Yale’s less than seven percent. One Harvard program alone, the Law School, produced 37 national leaders, in contrast with the 38 who graduated from all of Yale’s colleges combined (author and M. A. Simon The Social Science Journal, 2007).
The University of Chicago trained the now-famous “Chicago Boys,” a group a Chilean economists who went on to greatly influence that country’s monetary policy. …
The State Department and private groups keep running lists of foreign dignitaries who studied at American schools of higher education, a list that includes a king in Jordan, a crown prince in Norway and a crown princess in Japan. In some countries, the links can be extensive. When Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who got a master’s degree at Missouri’s Webster University, convenes his Cabinet, the group includes alumni of the University of California, Berkeley (defense minister), American University (justice minister), the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania (finance minister), UC-Davis (trade minister) and the University of Colorado School of Mines (energy minister). …
In the 2010-11 school year, the number of foreign students in U.S. schools shot up to 723,277, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year, Institute of International Education reported. It has increased each of the past five years, and has risen 32 percent over the past decade. …
Chinese students accounted for much of the recent growth, with the total number from the burgeoning Asian power increasing by 23 percent overall and by 43 percent at the undergraduate level.
In the 2010-11 school year, 157,558 Chinese were studying at American schools, far more than from the No. 2 country, India, which had 103,895. Other nations with rocky relationships with the U.S. — Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, among others — also have sent their young people to the U.S.
Even if the most powerful guy in Jordan or the Philippines is an idiot (and I’m not saying he is–I’m drawing countries out of a hat,) it’s still more in Harvard’s interest to say he went to Harvard than some random American of equal IQ. The same is true at home: it’s more important for the most powerful black guy in the country to have gone to Harvard than for the second-most powerful white guy. The big universities of course want smart people, but they want powerful people even more.
In 2015, seven students–Fernando Rojas, Munira Khalif, Stefan Stoykov, Victor Agbafe, Pooja Chandrashekar, Harold Ekeh, and Alexander Roman–got into all eight Ivy League colleges. These students have one thing in common: they’re all immigrants.
(Since the Daily Mail is written by idiots, the writer didn’t realize that MIT is actually more prestigious than most of the Ivies.)
Kwasi Enin, another immigrant, was accepted into all eight Ivies in 2014 with a 2250 on his SAT (you can also read his essay here,) which is equivalent to a 1490 on the old, 1600-max score SAT. For comparison’s sake, if I had scored a 1490 on my SAT, my parents would have demanded to know what went wrong during the test.
To be fair, the immigrants likely have one thing in their favor independent of Harvard’s preferences: many of them grew up in poorer neighborhoods, unable to buy their way into the “good” school districts, where it was easier to out-shine their less-intelligent peers. While Americans labor under the illusion that schools make a significant difference in how smart students are, immigrants tend to believe that your parents making you study makes you smart.
But keep in mind that every year, Harvard rejects students with perfect SAT. The chances of getting into all 8 Ivy League schools is astronomically low; the chances that all 8 students who did so happen to also be immigrants/the children of immigrants is even lower, unless the Ivies are specifically selecting for them–and many of these immigrants are then used to fill the universities’ Affirmative Action quotas, because it is easier to find high-scoring Nigerians, Kenyans and upper-caste Indians than high-scoring African Americans.
In short: Universities want Affirmative Action because it benefits their bottom lines.
Today we come to a flaw in my methods: I usually write my posts a few weeks before they actually go up. Normally, this is not an issue–genetics tends not to change very much from week to week. And to keep a them evenly paced, I just write each Cathedral Round up on the day the previous one goes up. Since articles from the Yale Law bulletin or Princeton Magazine are not normally of interest to outsiders, the delay between publication and commentary hasn’t been a big issue.
But this month, all the stuff going on in the echelons of higher education has made it into the actual news! Do you know how weird it is to suddenly have relatives complaining about student protests at Yale or U Missouri? Obscure campus news–that’s my schtick, not theirs.
Next month, I’m going to try out a new methodology for keeping the Cathedral Round Up both on-schedule and topical. For today, though, here’s what was going on before all this stuff broke into the media:
This month, I decided to focus on Yale, Princeton, and Penn (though Stanford managed to sneak back in, because Stanford.)
Yale is in the process of cannibalizing itself. Princeton is halfway there, but some students are still holding out due to Princeton’s stronger culture of elitism. Poor Penn is never going to get taken seriously as an Ivy so long as it continues insisting on publishing mostly reasonable articles about itself, instead of concentrating on world-breaking levels of crazy.
The Yale Alumni magazine has a transcript of Deal Holloway’s Freshman Address, Yale’s Narrative, and Yours, (gosh, that comma bugs me. Commas are for lists of three or more things, or separating two different actors in a sentence, eg, “She went to the store, and I vacuumed the house.” This title should not have a comma,) which I am going to quote quite a bit from because it is just so awful:
Class of 2019, I am thrilled to see you and look forward to getting to know you well in the years ahead. … But who, exactly, are you? You hail from across this country and from around the world. Many of you are the children of parents who are already Yale alumni. More of you will be the first in your families to graduate from college at all. Most of you went to public school. Nearly half of you are receiving financial aid. …
I’d like you to turn to the images that are in your program. … The images you see are something of a triptych—three different paintings of British merchant Elihu Yale that when brought together tell a fascinating story. For those who don’t already know, Elihu Yale rose to power and accumulated wealth through his leadership in the East India Company. In 1718, Yale received a request to finance a new building for the Collegiate School of Connecticut, a small enterprise founded in 1701 for the training of Congregationalist ministers. Yale sent hundreds of books, a portrait of King George I, and bales of goods that were later sold to finance the building. In short order, the Collegiate School was renamed in his honor. …
In all of the paintings Elihu Yale is wearing and surrounded by sumptuous fabrics. … In the two paintings on side one we see ships in the distance—a reference to the fact that Elihu Yale built his career on trade that navigated the ports in the British empire. In the second and third paintings we see an unidentified attendant. Much like the wearing of exquisite clothes suggested, placing a servant in a portrait was an articulation of standing and wealth. But when we look more carefully at these two paintings we notice that in addition to the fine clothes the servant and page are wearing they also happen to have metal collars and clasps around their necks. What we are seeing in each painting, then, isn’t a servant or a page, but a slave.
We are fairly certain that Elihu Yale did not own any slaves himself, but there’s no doubting the fact that he participated in the slave trade, profiting from the sale of humans just as he profited from the sale of so many actual objects that were part of the East India trade empire. As such, Elihu Yale’s wealth was linked to a global economy that was deeply, practically inextricably, interwoven with the sale of human beings to other human beings. In fact, when we look at the paintings it is safe to assume that Elihu Yale was a willing participant in that economy. Since he could have selected anything to represent him in these paintings we can conclude that he chose to be depicted with enslaved people because he believed this narrative would best signify his wealth, power, and worldliness.
This is a difficult story to hear, especially on an occasion of welcoming and celebration. But I share it with you because just as proper histories are unafraid of their darker corners you should be unafraid to ask difficult questions of this university. Indeed, we expect you to do so.
… The first of your three images hangs in the Corporation Room of Woodbridge Hall—the nerve center of the university. That this specific portrait hangs there, however, is fairly recent history. Until 2007, the second painting of Elihu Yale you see in the program insert is what you would have found in the Corporation Room. That year, recognizing that this representation was terribly jarring whether it was understood in its historical context or not, the university removed the painting. …
So, Class of 2019: here you are, in a place that has been waiting a long time for you to arrive, a place where you emphatically belong. Whatever your race, religion, wealth, sport, political philosophy, taste in music; whatever your sexuality, your passport’s origin, or the number of stamps in your passport, this place is yours, ready for you to make your contribution to it. …
You have come here at a unique moment, when this university engages with questions of its own identity, at a time when national conversations about race have shined a light on social constructions and assumptions that for many (but not for all), have lain dormant for decades, if not centuries. …
I have to interrupt here. Who the fuck thinks that our ideas about race have been lying dormant for centuries? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? Were there no Civil Rights marches in the 1950s? Did no one in the 60s and 70s ever mention race? Did we never celebrate Martin Luther King Day in school? Are there no streets named in his honor? People talk constantly about race, but for some strange reason keep claiming that we have not been talking about race.
These big questions will form part of the education that awaits you, even more than problem sets, term papers, or exams. But so will the conversation that begins today, as you write your own story and build your own Yale.
This is hard but joyous work, and you embark on it with many others. Joining you are your peers and your professors, the friends you are about to make, and the students who have preceded you. I join you, too.
Welcome to this work. Welcome to this place. Welcome to Yale.
TL; DR: White history is shit and white people should feel bad. Welcome to Yale!
Good morning and welcome, Class of 2019, family members, and colleagues sharing the stage with me. …
Well, as the events in South Carolina shook the nation, many members of our own community could not avoid considering a matter that ties us here in New Haven to similar questions of history, naming, symbols, and narratives. …
About one in twelve of you has been assigned to Calhoun College, named, when the college system was instituted in the 1930s, for John C. Calhoun—a graduate of the Yale College Class of 1804 who achieved extremely high prominence in the early nineteenth century as a notable political theorist, a vice president to two different US presidents, a secretary of war and of state, and a congressman and senator representing South Carolina. …
Calhoun mounted the most powerful and influential defense of his day for slavery. …
Are we perhaps better off retaining before us the name and the evocative, sometimes brooding presence of Yale graduate John C. Calhoun? He may serve to remind us not only of Yale’s complicated and occasionally painful associations with the past, but to enforce in us a sense of our own moral fallibility as we ourselves face questions about the future.
So it was not surprising that within a short time of the massacre and subsequent debate in South Carolina, we found that the issues of honoring, naming, and remembering that have occasionally surfaced regarding Calhoun College returned to confront us again. … And inevitably we found ourselves wondering, and not for the first time, how best to address the undeniable challenges associated with the fact that Calhoun’s name graces a residential community in Yale College, an institution where, above all, we prize both the spirit and reality of full inclusion. …
As entering Yale students of the Class of 2019, what are your obligations to wrest from this place an education that encourages you to question tradition even while honoring it, to chart your own history even while learning from the past, to enter fully into difficult conversations even while respecting contradictory ideas and opinions?I know in the next four years, you will make progress on figuring all this out. Let’s get started together. Let’s get started today.
Yale has, apparently, no heroes worth honoring or inspiring its students to emulate, only villains. The grand duty of Yale students is to decide whether their past heroes should cast out and forgotten, or remembered solely as a warning about evil.
Take Yale’s bond from a Dutch water authority: it was originally issued in 1648, it is inscribed on goatskin, and recently, it added €136.20—about $153—to Yale’s coffers. … the bond was acquired as part of “a collection that traces the history of capital market development and financial innovation.”
A bestselling memoirist, the poet for Barack Obama’s first inauguration, and Yale’s first endowed professor of poetry, Elizabeth Alexander ’84 is one of Yale’s highest-profile professors. But not for long: Alexander is leaving the Yale faculty for Columbia next fall.
Her departure, along with that of anthropologist Vanessa Agard-Jones ’00, also for Columbia, was reported in the Yale Daily News as a sign of “systemic problems” in Yale’s efforts to make its faculty more diverse. (Alexander and Agard-Jones are both African American.)
Columbia has invested $63 million in its faculty diversity initiative to finance “recruitment, support, and related programs” since 2012.
“We have not made nearly enough progress on diversifying the faculty, and my colleagues in the higher administration know that I have long believed we need to have powerful commitments from on high, both in continued, stated vision and also with extensive resource allocation,” Alexander told the News. “Yale lags behind its peers where we should be leaders, and [faculty diversity] goals, in my opinion, should be a priority, as they are elsewhere, including Columbia.”
Ultimately, it all comes down to money. Qualified black professors are few and far between, and so capable of commanding much higher salaries than they would if they were white.
The world does not need more scientists, engineers, or people who build complicated systems for the delivery of electricity or removal of waste. The world needs more vaguely black-looking poets and gender studies professors. Those are the folks who will bring us the next set of civilization-building innovations!
Here at Yale, your worth as a person is not determined by what you do, by what you accomplish, or by the content of your character, but by the color of your skin. And maybe your sexual proclivities and gender.
I have a proposal: Let’s rename the whole shebang. Get rid of “Yale”. Let’s rename them “Rosa Parks University” and “Caesar Chavez College” and be done with it. It’s not like anyone actually cares about Elihu or Calhoun, except as representatives of a hated history.
Penn had an interesting article on helping ex-cons start companies by teaching them how to fill out paperwork, but that kind of practical approach to the world will never get Penn the kind of attention it needs to be a world-class university.
Meanwhile, over at Princeton, one of the nation’s most prestigious and selective colleges, a student noticed that in order to have a functional social club that pursues a particular interest (in this case, literature), some people have to be excluded. The student therefore decided not to join a social club, because excluding people is bad.
A group of students is in the process of creating a new student organization that aims to raise awareness and educate the community on the subject of campus sexual assault. …
Because no one has ever done that before. Seriously, I bet no one on the entire Stanford campus has ever thought to raise awareness of sexual assault before.
The idea for the student group grew out of a Sophomore College course this summer called “One in Five: The Law, Policy and Politics of Sexual Assault” with law professor Michele Dauber. The group will be called One in Five after the class.
The three-week experience was “completely immersive,” according to Dauber.
“Immersive”? What, did they rape the students in the course?
Perhaps more troubling than Whitman or Rockefeller are the cases of individuals like Matt Wage ’12. Wage took Peter Singer’s ethics class and decided to work on Wall Street after graduation in order to make large amounts of money that he could then donate to life-saving causes. In his book, Singer argues that Wage exemplifies the model of effective altruism, a concept that enshrines individual charity as the most effective force for good while ignoring entirely the power of collective action against structural injustice.
Wage joined a toxic system of finance dominated by rent seekers that helps maintain an environmentally unsustainable global economy. This economy is already taking lives and bringing suffering [PDF] for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. While Wage can take credit for the lives that he has supposedly saved with his Wall Street earnings, he can also conveniently ignore his complicity in a system of finance inextricable from climate injustice as well as other forms of oppression like private prisons, sweatshops, the domestic and global exchange of weapons and practices like insider trading, cronyism and corruption.
If you look at the PDF about “taking lives and bringing suffering,” you’ll note that Wage is being blamed for global warming.
While I actually dislike Wall Street and economic theories based on the idea of endless growth, which are bad for long-term resource maintenance necessary for people to have nice lives, this is not a critique of Effective Altruism. Coherent critiques of EA exist, but “EA => Global Warming!” is not one of them.
… it is time for our University to reevaluate its blind veneration to its deeply racist demigod. … This response assumes that Wilson’s racist actions were minuscule despite the fact that he actively worked to destroy, hinder and thwart the communities of black and brown peoples in America. … I told the administrator that Wilson is arguably the most racist U.S. and Princeton president, and the administrator agreed that Wilson was indeed racist.
I think the Cherokee might disagree with that assessment.