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Naming Rites for Naming Wrongs: What We Talk about When We Talk about Woodrow Wilson

  • Dara Z. Strolovitch and Chaya Y. Crowder
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.


Woodrow Wilson is the only American political scientist to have served as President of the United States. In the time between his political science Ph.D. (from Johns Hopkins, in 1886) and his tenure as president (1913–21), he also served as president of Princeton University (1902–10) and president of the American Political Science Association (1909–10). Wilson is one of the most revered figures in American political thought and in American political science. The Woodrow Wilson Award is perhaps APSA’s most distinguished award, given annually for the best book on government, politics, or international affairs published in the previous year, and sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation at Princeton University.

Wilson has also recently become the subject of controversy, on the campus of Princeton University, and in the political culture more generally, in connection with racist statements that he made and the segregationist practices of his administration. A group of Princeton students associated with the “Black Lives Matter” movement has demanded that Wilson’s name be removed from two campus buildings, one of which is the famous Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (see Martha A. Sandweiss, “Woodrow Wilson, Princeton, and the Complex Landscape of Race,” Many others have resisted this idea, noting that Wilson is indeed an important figure in the history of twentieth-century liberalism and Progressivism in the United States.

A number of colleagues have contacted me suggesting that Perspectives ought to organize a symposium on the Wilson controversy. Although we do not regularly organize symposia around current events, given the valence of the controversy and its connection to issues we have featured in our journal (see especially the September 2015 issue on “The American Politics of Policing and Incarceration”), and given Wilson's importance in the history of our discipline, we have decided to make an exception in this case. We have thus invited a wide range of colleagues whose views on this issue will interest our readers to comment on this controversy. —Jeffrey C. Isaac, Editor.



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A correction has been issued for this article: