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Witherspoon statue, fossil fuel disassociation, CPS funding key topics in substantial CPUC meeting

The statue of John Witherspoon outside of East Pyne has been a point of debate on campus for a couple years.
Aarushi Adlakha / The Daily Princetonian

Major topics were raised at the Council of the Princeton University Community’s (CPUC) final meeting of the academic school year, held on May 1 at 4:30 p.m. in the Frist Campus Center Multipurpose Room.

Questions about mental health funding were discussed and administrators suggested that increases in funding may be in the works. Committee members expressed openness to further discussions about disassociation from fossil fuels, and committee members decried the politicization of the debate over the John Witherspoon statue.


Results from a major survey on sexual misconduct

Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun presented the Spring 2023 report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Climate, Culture and Conduct, which examined the preliminary results of the 2022 WeSpeak survey. According to the 2017 Summary Report, the survey “is part of Princeton University’s ongoing efforts to provide a campus environment that is safe and supportive to all students and in compliance with Title IX. Princeton is using the findings of the survey to inform campus programming to address and prevent these issues, as well as take other proactive steps to improve our campus environment.”

Under New Jersey state law, the WeSpeak survey must be administered every four years; Princeton used to administer it annually, but stopped after 2017 because, as Calhoun explained, the committee found that some students “felt a little bit that the annual survey actually was triggering in some ways, so we went for a longer period of time between [surveys].” 

The survey found a reduction in the overall percentage of undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty who had experienced inappropriate sexual behavior, though presenters noted that fewer students filled out the survey. The survey also found that 35 percent of LGBTQ respondents experienced inappropriate sexual behavior compared to 12 percent of straight respondents. Additionally, 50 percent of undergraduates and 42 percent of graduates reported not understanding what happens after reporting a claim of sexual assault at Princeton. 

The Committee proposed a number of suggestions to remedy these issues, which included meeting with the assistant director of the Gender + Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) as a first step to improving outcomes for the LGBTQ community, identifying and educating on protective behaviors, and increasing awareness of University resources and processes around sexual assault. The Committee also proposed a motion to extend the ad-hoc committee for another three years, which, per procedure, cannot be voted on until the next meeting in September.

Questions over further University spending


Provost Jennifer Rexford, chair of the Priorities Committee, presented its recommended operating budget for the 2023–2024 academic year. Rexford stated that the three goals of the Priorities Committee when creating a budget are access and affordability, academic excellence, and intergenerational equity. The proposed budget was $2.9 billion, with undergraduate scholarships seeing a 26.4 percent increase in its budget. Graduate student support will also increase by 7.4 percent, which follows an increase of over 25 percent from the 2022–2023 academic year. 

One attendee asked why there were no proposed changes to the mental health budget. Calhoun responded, “It’s clearly something that’s incredibly important. It’s been a big part of our discussions, both in supporting University Health Services and the Student Health Plan, among other things.”  

“It might not be showing up there quite at this moment in the ways that I think you might be asking about in terms of increased resources for CPS and other efforts, but that is a high priority and the President has made it a high priority. So we are actually… reviewing with the provost office, increases in that area” she added.

Undergraduate Student Government President Stephen Daniels ’24 noted that the endowment has increased substantially over the last few years, asking “Do you see some sort of radical transformation coming in the next few years with how the endowment is used, recognizing its historic performance over the past five years or so?”

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President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 suggested that the University did not intend any radical transformations, noting that gains in the endowment would be used to cover losses in the other years.

“The University has a budget model that is designed to produce intergenerational equity and to smooth out fluctuations in endowment returns; there are some years where the endowment goes up very rapidly and some when the returns are not very good … Under those circumstances, we want to continue to be able to support salaries and financial aid in a way that’s sustainable going forward,” Eisgruber said. 

Eisgruber pointed to the increases in graduate student aid and undergraduate financial as examples of benefits of the increased endowment that community members had already seen.

Fossil fuel divestment “unfinished business”

Questions of divestment from fossil fuels dominated the Resources Committee section of the meeting.

According to the presentation, the Resources Committee “considers questions of general policy concerning the procurement and management of the [University]’s financial resources.” The committee decides whether and when to recommend that the Board of Trustees dissociate or divest from a particular company. They may consider issues on their own but may also receive proposals from others. Groves reported that there were no recommendations this year. 

The committee chair, Jay Groves, a chemistry professor, gave the presentation. 

Aishwarya Swamidurai ’26, a U-Councilor, asked, “Do you anticipate the discussion of fossil fuels continuing in these next few years with the committee’s priorities?”

Grove responded, “We are certainly aware that perhaps this is unfinished business, and there’s still discussion on campus. The committee is interested in, and we have discussed, follow-ups on how the recommendations have actually been implemented.” 

He first said that the trustees are the ones who decide what action to take regarding the endowment, but then noted that they took the faculty committee’s recommendation seriously in the initial disassociation, saying “if there are more issues related to [fossil fuel disassociation], the way to bring it back on the table would be for some group to come forward … to the committee with a proposal. What is missing now? What should we be thinking? We’d be happy to hear from you.”

Fears about polarization on Witherspoon

Next, the discussion moved to the Witherspoon statue, which has faced calls for removal on account of the fact that Witherspoon was a slaveholder. Administrators worried that the issue was quickly becoming politicized.

Interim Chair of the Committee on Naming Angela Creager, who is also a professor in the Department of History, gave the presentation. The committee has mainly focused on responding to the petition for the removal of the statue of John Witherspoon in Firestone Plaza started by Department of Philosophy graduate students and philosophy professor Boris Kment. 

The committees held listening sessions in late fall 2022, according to Creager. The sessions found no community consensus and there was no consensus on the Board of Trustees either.

Creager, Vice Provost Michelle Minter, and Associate Provost Shawn Maxam organized a symposium titled “John Witherspoon in Historical Context,” which was held on April 21. Several faculty members and scholars from outside of Princeton who had researched Witherspoon spoke about his life and legacy. 

According to Creager, one alumni who held very strong opinions about preserving Witherspoon placed a printed copy of an op-ed “on every single seat in the auditorium where the symposium was, that, to my horror, pitted the work of one of our panelists against another panelist in an effort to make a point about Witherspoon.” 

She continued, “It’s precisely that kind of polarization, the politicization that I’m very much trying to resist in the committee’s work, and I welcome your suggestions about finding ways to engage with the broader alumni and Princeton community without it devolving into a political contest.”

An alumni representative on CPUC noted that the University was reacting to concerns as they came up about named structures on campus. They asked if there was any intention of getting ahead of issues rather than responding, and proactively examining the names of significant structures and professorships. 

Creager responded, “I can’t say that we wish to take up a broader systematic study of the kind of histories of [those] individuals … because it would be an enormous amount of work.”

“It is a lot of labor to consider one person and one name; it would take many many years, if not decades, to really reckon with other names on campus, even from [Witherspoon’s]  generation. But I take very seriously your broader consideration of that issue,” she added.

Creager also stated that the rooms in Prospect House that are currently designated by letters will soon be named after individuals.

Finally, the Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Government presented their accomplishments in the 2022–2023 academic year and their goals for the 2023–2024 academic year. Both reports included increasing the sense of community on campus.

The next meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community will be held in September 2023. 

Olivia Sanchez is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince.’

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