Reaction enthusiastic for new leader
Jennifer Greenstein & Steven Schultz
Princeton NJ -- In the days following her selection as president, Shirley Tilghman basked in hugs, handshakes and congratulations from all corners of the University.
"She's been my role model since I've been a teenager," said Nicole Clouse, a first-year molecular biology graduate student who was among the many well wishers. Clouse had tears in her eyes as she gave Tilghman a big hug and offered her congratulations. "I'm thrilled for her, but I'm sad," she said, explaining her tears. "I was going to join her lab."
For many the announcement came as a surprise, if only because, the last they knew, Tilghman was a member of the presidential search committee.
"I thought from the beginning that Shirley was the perfect candidate, but understood (her early decision) to remain a scientist and be on the search committee," said Miguel Centeno, associate professor of sociology. "I congratulate her colleagues on that committee for seeing past her modesty and realizing that we had the ideal candidate among us.
"She combines all the requisite skills and attributes: moral and scholarly authority, commitment to teaching and to students, and the diplomatic and organizational talents needed to manage such an important institution," Centeno continued. "I find that I am much fonder of Princeton as a result of this choice and look forward to working with her."
Mark Johnston, chair of the philosophy department and a member of the search committee, said the choice was clear, regardless of one's departmental affiliation.
"She has an exciting academic vision for Princeton, one with which I completely identify," said Johnston. "As a representative of the humanities, I was especially keen to discern her attitude to that half of the academic community. She speaks and thinks of the humanities as 'the soul of the University.' I am convinced that the humanities will thrive during her presidency. We should all be very thankful to Shirley for her readiness to take on the great task of the Princeton presidency."
Those who have worked with Tilghman said their experiences gave them a glimpse of a working style and approach to business that will serve the University well.
"It is a brilliant choice," said John Wilson, dean of the Graduate School, who served with Tilghman on the search committee for the University librarian, which resulted in hiring Karin Trainer, and on the "Committee of Three," which oversees all faculty appointments and promotions. In both cases, he said, Tilghman was skilled in helping the committees reach hard decisions.
"I soon came to expect from Shirley a very individual point of view that often helped the committee look at things in a different light and move ahead in a difficult situation," said Wilson. "Her gifts were just very valuable, again and again."
Wilson also noted that Tilghman was always remarkably well versed in the material, which was a particular challenge in the case of the Committee of Three because it meets as often as twice a week for hours at a time.
Eric Wieschaus, professor of molecular biology and Nobel laureate, had a similar experience when he co-taught courses with Tilghman. "I have never understood how she does it," said Wieschaus. "On Monday and Wednesday mornings, when I know she just flew in that morning or the night before from a meeting with trustees or a conference, she always is extraordinarily well prepared for classes at 9 in the morning."
On top of that, said Rosemary Grant, senior research biologist in ecology and evolutionary biology who co-taught a course directed to non-scientists, she takes "great pains" to keep students engaged through lively questioning and close interaction. "When she is teaching, she is exceedingly clear and well organized. It was really a great pleasure and I learned a lot teaching with her."
That dedication has clearly paid off for those who have passed through her classroom.
"She taught us that we were already scientists as freshmen in college. She taught us that we could reason anything out, even as freshmen," said David Newbower '97, who had Tilghman as a professor his freshman year for a seminar on developmental biology.
Newbower, who works for a technology company in Cambridge, Mass., said he thinks back frequently to what Tilghman taught him.
"Every day at work I encounter something where I think I have to study this or that to understand a problem, and every time I remember her lesson: You can just tackle the problem on your own. You can solve a problem people don't think you can solve, even if you don't have the expertise. You can tackle anything you're interested in.
"This is the proudest I've ever felt about being a
graduate of Princeton," said Newbower. "I feel like it's the
right answer for president."