The U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into Princeton University after its president acknowledged that systemic racism is “embedded” in the university’s structures.
The department informed Princeton of the investigation in a letter Wednesday, citing Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber’s open letter earlier this month discussing the school’s efforts to address systemic racism.
Officials said the university “repeatedly represented and warranted to” the department that it was complying with nondiscrimination mandates under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but asserted that Eisgruber in his letter had admitted the university is “racist.”
The Department of Education expressed concern that the university has received tens of millions of dollars in federal funds despite the potential lack of compliance.
“Based on its admitted racism, the U.S. Department of Education (‘Department’) 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,” the letter added. “The Department is further concerned Princeton perhaps knew, or should have known, these assurances were false at the time they were made.”
The Trump administration requested several documents and interviews under oath from the university as it moves forward with the probe, specifically into whether Princeton misrepresented itself to the department and the public.
Eisgruber’s letter earlier this month sought to unveil initiatives Princeton was taking to address systemic racism. In the letter, he said, “Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the University itself,” citing that at least nine departments focus on European language and culture, compared to one on African studies.
“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,” the Princeton president said in the letter.
The university released a statement in reaction to the Department of Education investigation, saying it “stands by our statements about the prevalence of systemic racism and our commitment to reckon with its continued effects.”
“Princeton has long been committed to creating and maintaining a community where all can thrive, and stands by its representations to the Department and the public that it complies with all laws and regulations governing equal opportunity, non-discrimination and harassment,” the statement said.
Princeton called it “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,” adding it will respond in “due course.”
“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,” the statement continued.
The Department of Education’s probe comes after protests erupted across the country earlier this summer calling for racial justice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. The resulting demonstrations pushed several institutions and companies to update their policies to offer more vocal support for people of color.
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