Princeton University Will Rename Building After Toni Morrison, WW School Auditorium After Arthur Lewis

By Donald Gilpin

West College, a prominent central campus building at Princeton University, will be named for emeritus faculty member and Nobel Prize-wining novelist Toni Morrison, and the major auditorium in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs will be named for Arthur Lewis, Nobel laureate in economics and a member of the school’s faculty from 1963 to 1983. 

The new names, which will go into effect on July 1, were approved by the University trustees last week based on recommendations made by a committee of faculty, students, staff, and alumni that was established in the fall of 2016 to advise the trustees on the naming of “buildings or other spaces to recognize individuals who would bring a more diverse presence to the campus.”

Following a 2015 sit-in at Nassau Hall and demands that the school remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from buildings and programs because of his racist views, the University trustees eventually decided not to change the names of the School of Public and International Affairs and the residential college named for Woodrow Wilson but instead to undertake a number of measures to increase inclusion and diversity on campus, including the creation of the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming.

The committee made its recommendations after seeking suggestions from the University community, with more than 210 people submitting ideas.

The name of former University President Harold Dodds will be transferred from the auditorium to the adjacent atrium that serves as the entryway into Robertson Hall at the Woodrow Wilson School.

Toni Morrison, who in 1993 became the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, taught courses at Princeton in the humanities and African American Studies, then joined the creative writing program.

She played a “catalytic role,” according to the Princeton office of communications, in expanding Princeton’s commitments both to the creative and performing arts and to African American studies. In 1994 she founded the Princeton Atelier, bringing together undergraduate students in interdisciplinary collaborations with acclaimed artists and performers.

In a 2016 announcement that Ms. Morrison’s papers would be permanently housed at the Princeton University Library, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said, “Toni Morrison’s place among the giants of American literature is firmly entrenched …. We at Princeton are fortunate that Professor Morrison brought her brilliant talents as a writer and teacher to our campus 25 years ago, and we are deeply honored to house her papers and to help preserve her inspiring legacy.”

Mr. Lewis joined the Princeton faculty in 1963 as a professor of economics and international affairs and later was appointed the James Madison Professor of Political Economy. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in economic development and economic history, retired in 1983 and remained associated with the university in emeritus status until his death in 1991.

Knighted in 1963, Mr. Lewis was a native of St. Lucia and the first person of African descent to be appointed a professor in Great Britain’s university system. He wrote 12 books and published more than 80 professional articles.

Mr. Lewis’s Nobel Prize recognized his pioneering research into economic development, with particular consideration of the problems of developing countries. In making its recommendation, the Naming Committee cited the international scope of his research, stating, “It is important to have that message — along with a message about diversity and inclusion — associated with Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs.”

Mr. Lewis served as economic adviser to the government of Ghana when it gained independence in 1957; the first West Indian-born principal then vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies; chancellor of the University of Guyana; managing director of the United Nations Special Fund; and first president of the Caribbean Development Bank. Arthur Lewis Community College in St. Lucia is named in his honor.

Expressing his gratitude to the Naming Committee, Mr. Eisgruber said, “By taking these steps we begin to recognize more completely the extraordinary range of individuals and groups that have made the University what it is today, and to inscribe upon the fabric of our campus a fuller account not only of Princeton’s history, but also of the commitments to both excellence and inclusivity that must guide our aspirations for the future.”