President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Building on Our Strengths; Breaking New Ground
March 8, 2006
Five years ago this month I was serving on a search committee that was trying to identify the principal opportunities and challenges that would face Princeton’s next president. Two months later, after an entirely unexpected twist of fate, I was asked by the trustees to take on the daunting responsibility of leading this remarkable institution in the first decade of the 21st century.
As you would expect, I was both delighted and humbled. The trustees made it clear from the beginning that while Princeton presidents have many duties, my highest priority was to work with them in sustaining Princeton’s distinctive excellence and in identifying areas where Princeton had a special opportunity to strengthen its existing programs or to add new strengths in critically important areas.
Over these past five years I have been constantly reminded of just how unique Princeton is as an institution that is both one of the world’s leading research universities and one of its most outstanding undergraduate colleges. We successfully attract faculty who are both leaders in their fields of scholarship and research and dedicated teachers of undergraduates—as well as graduate students, who are the next generation of scholars, teachers, and leaders in their fields. We attract a wonderfully diverse student body from all around the country and the world; we provide the best financial aid program of any university; and we prepare our students for lives of leadership, intellectual curiosity, and service to others.
At the same time, in conversations with faculty and students, trustees, and alumni, with my colleagues in the administration and with leaders at other institutions, I have identified areas where I believe Princeton must strengthen existing programs, enhance disciplines so that they remain pre-eminent, and move into new fields of scholarship. Princeton needs to take these steps to continue to attract the very best students, faculty, and staff, and to provide them with the resources they need to do their very best work.
Readers of the PAW will already be familiar with several of these areas. Over recent years we have been expanding Princeton’s international presence and increasing our capacities to teach and conduct research in the fields of international and regional studies. Last year we completed a broadly participatory strategic planning process that defined an exciting and distinctive vision for the future of engineering at Princeton. Last fall the trustees agreed that Princeton should significantly expand its teaching and research in neuroscience, one of the most important and exciting fields for scientific discovery over the coming decades. Several weeks ago the trustees endorsed a major new initiative in the creative and performing arts, and one of our trustees, Peter Lewis ’55, committed $101 million to get us off to a very strong start.
All of these initiatives, and others that we will be identifying with the trustees over the coming months, will require additional resources. Princeton has great financial strengths, due in large measure to the generosity of its alumni and other donors, its careful stewardship of its resources, and the successful investment of its endowment under the auspices of the Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO). These strengths allow Princeton to attract and support the very best faculty and graduate students; to offer a distinctive undergraduate education built around direct engagement with faculty, beginning with freshman seminars and culminating in the senior thesis; to provide admission without regard to financial need and without requiring loans; and to offer an extraordinary residential experience and a full array of athletic, cultural, and other extracurricular opportunities. Princeton uses its resources to provide the world with ideas, new knowledge, and graduates that we hope will shape the future to make the world a better place for all of us.
Looking ahead, we know that we will need to raise the funds necessary to build on these existing strengths and move into selected new areas. We also, of course, will continue to depend each year on the enormous flexibility that is provided by Princeton’s unparalleled Annual Giving program. Over the next 18 months, I will be working with the trustees to more precisely identify our highest priority needs, while we also confer with volunteers around the country to make sure we understand as fully as possible the interests and capacities of our donors.
It is too early to know exactly what form our next campaign will take, when we will be ready to launch it, or precisely what goals it might aim to achieve. But I am delighted that as we press ahead with our planning, three alumni who among them have already devoted more than 30 years to our Board of Trustees have agreed to lead our efforts. They are Robert Murley ’72 from Chicago, Illinois; Nancy Peretsman ’76 from New York; and John “Dubby” Wynne ’67 from Virginia Beach, Virginia.
I will have many opportunities over the coming months to talk further with alumni on campus and around the country about our planning and our aspirations, and I look forward to working with Bob, Nancy, Dubby and many others to ensure that Princeton is able in the future, as it has in the past, to make the investments it needs to achieve its most important and enduring goals.