After Princeton University released a statement earlier this month acknowledging systemic racism is a problem on its campus, the Department of Education decided to launch an investigation into the school. Don’t worry though, this is totally not a way to punish a school for committing to be less racist.
According to NBC News, the university released a letter it received from Department of Education Assistant Secretary Robert King. The letter states that the university could be asked to return $75 million in federal funds awarded to the school in the seven years since current university President Christopher L. Eisgruber took office. King frequently took aim at Eisgruber’s statement pledging the university would do better when it comes to race.
“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,” King wrote. “The Department is further concerned Princeton perhaps knew, or should have known, these assurances were false at the time they were made.”
The Department of Education has demanded the university turn over multiple documents and that university officials be made available to answer questions under oath. A spokesperson for the Department confirmed the accuracy of the letter with NBC News but refused to comment any further.
There is a concern among those in academia that the investigation is a way to threaten schools that are looking to address years of racial bias that have occured on their campuses. “They are trying to destabilize efforts to address this moment of racial reckoning. It seems to me an example of overreach on the part of the federal government,” Association of American Colleges & Universities President Lynn Pasquerella told NBC News.
Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, feels Princeton has been making the right moves, including its decision to remove President Woodrow Wilson’s name from one of its schools due to his notable history of being a racist asshole. Hartle believes the government is trying to punish the university for doing the right thing.
“This (federal investigation) is an unprecedented and unwarranted effort to undermine Princeton’s attempts to understand and address the role of race has played in its history,” Hartle told NBC News. “To Princeton’s great credit, they are asking themselves what they should have done differently in the past and what will it do differently in the future to be more welcoming and inclusive.”
The university released a statement on Thursday defending its actions, essentially saying that acknowledging history and working towards doing better shouldn’t be a punishable offense.
“It is unfortunate that the Department appears to believe that grappling honestly with the nation’s history and the current effects of systemic racism runs afoul of existing law,” the statement read. “The University disagrees and looks forward to furthering our educational mission by explaining why our statements and actions are consistent not only with the law, but also with the highest ideals and aspirations of this country.”