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Despite race views, Princeton to keep President Wilson's name

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Princeton University will keep former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s name on campus buildings despite student complaints about his segregationist beliefs, the Ivy League school said on Monday, while also announcing new diversity efforts.

Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is seen in Princeton, New Jersey, November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

While recommending that Wilson’s name and image not be removed from Princeton’s public spaces and from its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a trustees report said it needs to be honest in “recognizing Wilson’s failings and shortcomings as well as the visions and achievements that led to the naming of the school and the college in the first place.”

Wilson served as Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910 and then was the 28th U.S. president from 1913 to 1921. He was a leader of the Progressive Movement but supported racial segregation, part of public policy at the time, particularly in Southern states.

“Princeton must openly and candidly recognize that Wilson, like other historical figures, leaves behind a complex legacy with both positive and negative repercussions, and that the use of his name implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times,” the trustees report said.

The Princeton trustees adopted the recommendations of a special committee formed after students demonstrated and demanded the removal of Wilson’s name on campus in November amid a wave of protests at colleges across the nation over the treatment of minority students.

The school also agreed to several new initiatives to encourage diversity on campus, from encouraging a broader range of students to pursue doctoral degrees, to displaying art and logos that reflect a more racially mixed Princeton.

Some alumni expressed disappointment at the decision. “I know history is complex and Wilson did a lot for Princeton but I really would have liked to see Wilson College renamed,” Nadirah Farah Foley, a 2011 graduate, said on Twitter.

Others lauded Princeton for sticking with the Wilson name, condemning his views as racist by today’s standards but arguing they should not overshadow his accomplishments.

“He was president of the United States and you don’t erase that by the fact that he did things that today are unacceptable,” said lawyer Eric Chase, Princeton class of 1968.

The Black Justice League, which demanded Princeton scrub the Wilson name to acknowledge the racism it says the school was built on, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In March, Harvard University scrapped a law school seal associated with slavery. In January, Amherst College dropped its unofficial mascot considered hostile to Native Americans.

Additional reporting by Marcus E. Howard; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott