Shapiro to step down at the top of his game

Steven Schultz

With his announcement that he will step down as Princeton's president, Harold T. Shapiro described the University as being "at the top of its game."

Harold Shapiro reflects at a news conference after announcing his decision to complete his presidency.


The same could be said of Shapiro. The architect of one of the most intensive periods of growth and renewal in the University's 255-year history, he will re-enter his career as a full-time teacher and scholar in an environ-ment that he has made as conducive as possible to those very pursuits.

"I don't recall a time in Princeton's history when there have been more new activities going on, in academic programs, in facilities, in student and faculty recruitment. And I look forward to enjoying with the rest of you the flowering of all these efforts," he told reporters at a Sept. 22 news conference.

In his remarks, Shapiro noted that he drew inspiration from two of his personal sports heroes, baseball player Sandy Koufax and former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril, both of whom stepped away from outstanding careers at their peaks. "I had always hoped that when my time as president was over, I could feel that the best times were still ahead," he said.

His enthusiasm for the time ahead was clear as he described his plans for teaching and research in the field of bioethics. Shapiro spoke animatedly about the challenges of living in an age in which people may be able to escape the "genetic lottery" and tailor their genes at will.

"For the first time we have developments in science that not only enable us to control nature, but potentially to control human nature itself through genetic engineering," he said. "This raises the greatest and most profound ethical questions about what it means to be human, and how theories of justice need to be reconstructed. It's quite fascinating to me to speculate about how -- if we ever achieve this ability -- that would refine what we believe it means to be human and what a moral society is."

Shapiro will investigate these questions as a joint appointee in the Department of Economics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He also will draw on his experience as chair of President Bill Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission.

But he also will always be working within the context of an entire university and the broader world of higher education that he was instrumental in shaping.

His list of accomplishments (see story on page 7) includes not only the creation and expansion of many programs at Princeton, but also his work as chair of the board of the Association of American Universities.

Asked by a reporter about the challenges facing higher education, Shapiro said that although many issues in higher education have an age-old quality, some are new. As an example, he cited the proliferation of computer and Internet technologies that can be exploited as a new teaching medium. "There's an awful lot of hype in this area, but very little understanding of what it is people can learn using these new media," he said.

He added, however, that "You don't have to look for the new-fangled things to look for improvement; there is plenty of room in the bread-and-butter parts of universities. Do we recruit the best faculty? Do we recruit the best students? Do we have adequate opportunity? Have we done what we can to lower the cost for students who come from families whose incomes are low?"

These are not new questions, he said, but their answers evolve in this rapidly changing world. As an example, he noted that 10 percent of this year's freshman class at Princeton comes from abroad, which is more than twice the percentage of five years ago.

"That has not happened by accident," he said. "I think quality education here at Princeton means more international exposure. One way is to study abroad, and the other is having students come here from abroad. When we changed our motto from 'Princeton in the Nation's Service' to 'Princeton in the Nation's Service and in the Service of All Nations,' it wasn't an idle thought or just something that sounded musical. It was a commit-ment to an idea that the world has changed. We were a colonial university once; that was 250 years ago. Now we think of ourselves and our responsibilities as not only national, but international. That will take many forms here on campus and it's an effort that is yet to be completed in our curriculum, our staff and in our faculty."

Indeed in all of these areas, Shapiro said, "While we've had many achievements, what's left to do is greater than what's been accomplished."

Perhaps that insistence by Shapiro on looking forward has been the inspiration that has carried both him and the University to the top of their games. "When I arrived here, I was awestruck by Princeton's achievements," said Shapiro. "But I leave here awestruck and energized by what Princeton is yet to do."

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October 2, 2000
Vol. 90, No. 4
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