by Jennifer Ruth
September 17, 2020
It sounds like a bad joke. The Department of Education (DOE) has apparently launched an investigation into Princeton University. Why? Because President Eisgruber said that racism is embedded in the university structures and its history. “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,” says the letter DOE sent to Princeton, according to an article today in the Washington Examiner. “The Department is further concerned,” the letter continues, “Princeton perhaps knew, or should have known, these assurances were false at the time they were made. Finally, the Department is further concerned Princeton’s many nondiscrimination and equal opportunity claims to students, parents, and consumers in the market for education certificates may have been false, misleading, and actionable substantial misrepresentations in violation of 20 U.S.C. § 1094(c)(3)(B) and 34 CFR 668.71(c).”
This is the thinking of a Twitter presidency. I can hear the Trump administration laughing, like they had just posted a “gotcha” comeback on Eisgruber’s Twitter feed. Or it’s the logic of a grade-school administration: “I know you are but what am I?”
According to the Washington Examiner, “Multiple people familiar with the matter have confirmed the letter’s validity and assert that this investigation is not political. Instead, they insist that the department has a legal obligation to investigate a supposedly self-admitted violation of federal civil rights protections.” This bad faith feels like the last-minute flailing of a failing campaign as it makes another “attempt to politicize our national reckoning with racism,” to quote AAUP President Irene Mulvey’s recent statement condemning Trump’s attack on critical race theory. We’d be wise, though, to read it instead as the start of another flurry of attacks on higher education and its autonomy from political interference. More will come before November and perhaps afterwards.