As the University prepares to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to defend affirmative action, other prestigious institutions of higher education have been far more tepid in their support of academic programs to benefit minority students. Last week, Princeton University suspended its Woodrow Wilson School Junior Summer Institute – an undergraduate summer program that exclusively assists underrepresented minorities desiring to study public policy – due to fears of retaliatory litigation. This attempt to steer clear of the winds of controversy is a craven display, unfitting an institution of Princeton’s stature.
Many of the students who participate in the program at Princeton have grown up in an environment that has not equipped them with the experiences necessary to attend a rigorous public policy school. The institute provides these students with skills that will allow them to continue their academic studies to the graduate level. In a society where the quantity and quality of graduate school applicants is increasing rapidly, for many of its participants, the assistance that the institute provides can be invaluable.
The situation is fraught with irony, because many of the professors who teach at the Woodrow Wilson School have voiced their support for affirmative action and have criticized the inadequate substitutes that many states and President Bush have supported in its stead. Princeton President Shirley Tilghman has spent a great deal of her brief tenure recruiting minority scholars to Princeton.
This inconsistent policy of supporting diversity where it is politically convenient and ending minority outreach programs when it is an ineffective way to advance the cause of affirmative action. It also muddies Princeton’s efforts to fulfill its educational mission when legal concerns outweigh pedagogical goals.
Unfortunately, this decision to shelve this summer institute offered by the Woodrow Wilson School may have effects that reach far beyond New Jersey. As one of the most esteemed universities in the world, the policies this intellectual hub enacts have great sway. With just six weeks remaining until the University’s presentation to the Supreme Court, Princeton’s untimely decision could set back support for affirmative action. Already, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced that it will no longer be reserving math and science summer programs for minority students.
It appears that some schools only hold true to their pedagogical principles when these ideals are convenient. When the nation’s great institutes of higher education care more about avoiding controversy than creating the best possible educational environment for its students, something is amiss. These schools should follow the University’s example and be willing to make the pay the requisite costs in order to support the principles they profess to abide by.