On Witherspoon, Eisgruber Flunks His Own Test

October 31, 2023 2 min read

Bill Hewitt
Princeton Tory

Editor’s note: As the Naming Committee and the University approach the end of their deliberations on the vitally important decision whether to replace or remove the 10-foot bronze statue of the indispensable early Princeton president John Witherspoon (1768 to 1794), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, over his ownership of two slaves, we are featuring the latest of several articles (this one in the Princeton Tory) by Bill Hewitt ’74. The November 3 symposium, “Monuments, Memory, and the John Witherspoon Statue,” is the last scheduled public exploration of the issues. Hewitt has acquired encyclopedic knowledge of the historical facts, which he says show Withespoon to have been a heroic figure and enlightened for his time about slavery and its eventual abolition. The statue has stood in Firestone Plaza outside East Pyne Hall since being installed in 2001 under the leadership of Princeton President Harold T.  Shapiro.  

President Eisgruber has flagrantly failed his own stated standards of conduct – and abandoned his duties to the Princeton community. He refuses to prevent publication of multiple statements on University websites that falsely defame the reputation of John Witherspoon, Princeton’s indispensable early president and a founder of the United States. Moreover, these defamations’ profound misdirection about Witherspoon’s true relation to slavery have sown anguish and dissension across the University community.

Actions have consequences; so does inaction. After a long period of neglect by the administration, on October 31st, I finally placed before the University’s Judicial Committee a “Complaint regarding the Defamations of John Witherspoon and Related Breaches of Duty to the Princeton University Community.” It sets forth the defamations of John Witherspoon by the “To Be Known and Heard: Systemic Racism and Princeton University” and Princeton & Slavery Project websites.

Here is why I have taken such a drastic step. In his March 31, 2022 letter to Princeton Professor Keith Whittington regarding the “Known and Heard” website, published jointly by two University offices, President Eisgruber publicly enunciated for himself and his administration these standards:

To be sure, speech that comes from University offices is properly subject to more control from the central administration than is faculty and student speech. We insist, for example, that speech from University offices be factually accurate, respectful of University values, and consistent with the mission and responsibilities of the offices authoring it (emphasis added).

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