Following discussion with their board of trustees, the American Whig-Cliosophic Society (Whig-Clio) decided not to rescind the James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service (JMA) from Sen. Ted Cruz ’92 (R-Texas).
Student members of Whig-Clio voted to rescind Cruz’s award on March 4, following a 90-minute assembly where speeches were given for and against this decision following Cruz’s involvement with the U.S. Capitol riots on Jan. 6.
Since 1960, Whig-Clio has awarded the JMA to an individual “who has taken up the arduous but righteous cause of dedicating their life to the betterment of society.” Cruz received the award in 2016.
In an email sent to Whig-Clio members Friday morning, Whig-Clio Vice President Grace Xu ’22 outlined the reasons for the decision not to rescind the award.
“Under our Constitution, there is no basis for a new group of students to evaluate actions after the JMA is given and subsequently to revoke the award,” she explained.
In an email to The Daily Princetonian, Whig-Clio President Julia Chaffers ’22 acknowledged that while constitutional amendments are possible, an amendment was not considered regarding the JMA.
Chaffers is a senior columnist for the ‘Prince.’
After the Whig-Clio Board of Trustees decision, students voiced their support for and opposition to not rescinding the award from Cruz.
“I believe the Whig Clio Trustees made the wrong decision. The students gave Sen. Cruz the honor, and we should be able to take it away in light of what he's done, especially given we all gathered to make that decision,” said Brent Kibbey ’21, who launched the petition which called for Cruz’s JMA to be revoked.
“The trustees meet twice for a catered dinner each year and sign off on the budget. This is not up to them, and they must let our decision stand. Sadly, they and the administration wish to make this go away and not cause any trouble. However, this is good trouble, and we have to do it,” he added.
As co-president of Princeton College Democrats, Dylan Shapiro ’23 released a statement on behalf of the organization in which he shared his disapproval with the decision.
“Cruz’s encouragement of baseless lies about voter fraud in the 2020 election, which led to the January 6 insurrection, is an unprecedented attack on our democracy,” Shapiro wrote in a text to the ‘Prince.’ “It required the Trustees to uphold students’ condemnation, however unprecedented.”
Matthew Wilson ’24, the Cliosophic Party Chair, stated his approval of the decision not to revoke Sen. Cruz’s JMA, remarking that “the Board of Trustees made the right decision by blocking the attempt to revoke Senator Cruz’s JMA.”
Even though he will retain the JMA, Cruz did receive certain sanctions from the Whig-Clio Society.
Photos of Cruz will be removed from the Whig-Clio website “to reduce his presence within Whig-Clio,” the email noted. At the time of publication, the notable alumni section of the Whig-Clio website contained a photo featuring Cruz. However, Whig-Clio will not remove all mentions of Cruz from their website, as they intend to keep his name on the list of JMA recipients and on the notable alumni sections of their website, according to an email from Whig-Clio President Julia Chaffers ’22 to the ‘Prince’.
Chaffers is a Senior Columnist for the ‘Prince’.
In addition, Xu’s email about the decision also disclosed that Whig-Clio would not be inviting Cruz onto campus in the coming year.
Kibbey believed that these punishments did not go far enough, stating that “removing his photos and not inviting him for a year is just another example of Princeton not taking substantial actions where they need to, like the building of Double Sights, so that they might avoid controversy.”
Meanwhile, Wilson stated that “the so-called ‘punishments’ being imposed on Senator Cruz and future conservative JMA winners are arbitrary and ridiculous.”
Wilson, as Cliosophic Party Chair, is a member of Whig-Clio’s Governing Council and also criticized the process behind imposing these penalties.
“Whig-Clio’s Governing Council did not vote to approve these ‘punishments,’ and we were not even asked for our input,” he said.
Chaffers disputed this characterization, telling the ‘Prince’ that the Governing Council “collectively brainstormed actions we could take regarding Senator Cruz” during their first meeting following feedback from the trustees. This brainstorming, Chaffers said, was taken into account when the released statement was drafted, and the Governing Council was also asked for input on a draft of the statement prior to its release.
Within the statement, Whig-Clio additionally pledged to undergo changes in the way that JMAs are awarded in the future and to engage in a deeper dive into their organization’s history and alumni.
“While the role of selecting the JMA has historically been given to the Vice President of the Society, I will work to open it more to general membership,” Xu wrote in the email to Whig-Clio members.
Xu and Chaffers elaborated on how they could make the process more accessible to Whig-Clio members in an email to the ‘Prince,’ remarking that “we would love to have the wider Society potentially submit candidates for the JMA and have them vote on who they would like to see receive the award.”
No plans on reforming the JMA selection process have been finalized yet.
With regards to their deeper dive into Whig-Clio’s past, Chaffers and Xu remarked in an email to the ‘Prince’ that they hope to continue the process of examining the history of Whig-Clio and its alumni.
“We are interested in a retrospective project reflecting on the Society’s history and confronting the harmful actions of some of our alumni. We’re currently working with the Secretary branch to go into our archives and begin research in this area,” they added.
Sen. Cruz’s office did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated following publication on April 11 to reflect Chaffers’ position on the ‘Prince’ and include more student perspectives. It was updated again on April 12 to include a statement from Chaffers regarding Governing Council processes.