As you may have heard, the denizens of Princeton University are in a tizzy over the fact that the school's most famous alum, former president Woodrow Wilson, was a racist. This hasn't exactly been a secret all these years, but college students have apparently run out of more relevant things to be indignant about. Late last week the university said it was ready to begin having conversations about possibly removing his name from a cafeteria as well as the name of its esteemed school of public affairs.
While the specter of a major institution of higher learning caving in to an irrational and juvenile demand may seem absurd, I need to disagree: Should Princeton follow through on its implicit promise to its protesters and remove the name of the racist President Wilson from the campus it will prove to be the greatest university fundraising maneuver of the century.
If they prove themselves willing to take off the name of a president of the United States from campus buildings for his perceived sins, no benefactor is safe. It's a good bet that any building named before the 1970s honors someone with some modicum of racist thought that can be easily discovered from diligent research. The college won't even have to pay for that research; there will be hundreds of students dreaming of being the ones who launch a new round of righteous indignation amongst their classmates.
For any newer building we may not find any overt racists, but it's likely that the person harbored some homophobic attitudes. Again, diligent research ought to be able to uncover any untoward attitudes these men and women might have harbored towards gays, and given the achievements of anyone who has managed to accumulate enough money or influence to have Princeton name a building after them there should be a decent written record to work with.
Once this is done and the campus' buildings are utterly bereft of names, they can begin the process of renaming the buildings on campus—after the highest bidders, of course.
The only complication with this scheme is that the aggrieved may come to demand that a certain proportion of buildings be named for women or minorities. It's best that they begin thinking about the renaming process at once so that they can have the naming ceremony before the student body catches on and demands that their heroes be honored on the buildings. If they move quickly enough they can finish the renaming before students catch on with their new indignation—and they can start again—removing those benefactors whose checks already cleared.
Ike Brannon is president of Capital Policy Analytics, a consulting firm in Washington.