President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Aspire: A Plan for Princeton
November 21, 2007
On November 9 Princeton launched a campaign to raise $1.75 billion over the next five years. In addition to setting an ambitious five-year goal for Annual Giving, the campaign aspires to raise capital funds to expand our capacities in such critical areas as engineering and the environment, the creative and performing arts, neuroscience, and global citizenship. As in all previous Princeton campaigns, this one is being led by dedicated alumni volunteers, headed by a committee that is co-chaired by two long-serving trustees: Bob Murley ’72 and Nancy Peretsman ’76. I have invited Bob and Nancy to reflect on our new campaign and on what inspired them to serve as its co-chairs.
Robert S. Murley ’72, chairman of investment banking for the Americas at Credit Suisse, majored in politics and earned master’s degrees from both the London School of Economics and the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He has been a trustee for 12 years and a director of Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO) for eight. He has served as class agent, class president, national chair of Annual Giving, and co-chair of the Leadership Gifts Committee of the 250th Anniversary Campaign for Princeton. In 1998 he received the Harold Helm Award for exemplary work on behalf of Annual Giving, and he continues to serve as a member of the national Annual Giving committee.
I think I speak for many alumni when I say that my philanthropy is driven in large part by the organizations and institutions that have had a profound impact on my life. There have been many, but the most important is Princeton. At Princeton I received a great education that led to a gratifying career, lifelong friendships, and ultimately to my wife, Mimi Pivirotto Murley ’76. I am a first-generation Princetonian, Mimi is third-generation, and through her family our daughters Mimi Murley ’07 and Megan Murley ’10 are fourth-generation Princeton students; Princeton is an important part of our family.
This will be my third campaign for what I believe is the finest undergraduate college in the world. President Tilghman has a big challenge on her hands: how do you make a great university even greater? I believe that no matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement. There are areas, even areas of great strength, where Princeton must make strategic investments to stay on the cutting edge. Quality is expensive, and Princeton’s stellar faculty, outstanding graduate programs, and research on the frontiers of human knowledge require an enormous commitment of resources. They also require the combined efforts of individuals who believe in Princeton’s mission and who are dedicated to ensuring that this University continues to produce leaders in all walks of life and all fields of endeavor.
I feel fortunate to be part of this auspicious time in Princeton’s history. Under President Tilghman’s leadership, the Princeton experience has become accessible to more students, regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or economic circumstances. The move to an innovative four-year residential college system is another example of the University’s forward-looking vision. But even Princeton’s successful financial stewardship could not fund these advances alone; we also need the generosity of donors to keep Princeton at the top of the leader board. With this campaign, we are making sure Princeton continues to meet the needs of future generations.
When I applied to Princeton—because I had heard it was the best—I didn’t think I had much chance of being admitted. Then, when I learned I had been accepted, my first reaction was I can’t afford to go. But an alumni schools committee member said yes, you can. He said Princeton would give me a loan, a scholarship, and a job. I could go to Princeton, he told me, because of the generosity of literally thousands of alumni whose gifts had provided for students like me. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to join the ranks of those Princetonians and give others the opportunities that had been given to me.
I made a commitment to serve Princeton at an early age, becoming class agent by my fifth reunion. After many years of service to Princeton, I can say that the rewards, on a purely personal level, are immeasurable. For example, Mimi and I sponsor an annual dinner for comparative literature department majors, their parents, and the faculty. This is particularly meaningful for me, because the only time my mother came to Princeton was at my graduation. She was a public school teacher in California, where I grew up, and I know she would have loved a chance to meet my professors—and that is what Mimi and I want to offer with this dinner: a chance for parents to meet faculty and participate in their children’s education.
It is my firm belief that no matter how much you give to Princeton, you get more in return—lasting friendships, a sense of connection to an extraordinary place, and a deep satisfaction in helping Prince-ton achieve its mission. My experience at Princeton changed my life and changed the course of our family’s history. I look at service to Princeton as a privilege and, next to marrying Mimi, the greatest honor I’ve ever experienced.
Nancy B. Peretsman ’76 is a managing director at Allen & Company LLC, an investment banking firm in New York City. At Princeton she concentrated in the Woodrow Wilson School before earning a master’s degree from the Yale School of Management. Currently in her 17th year as a trustee, she was chair of the New York City region in the 250th Anniversary Campaign for Princeton. She founded and chaired the University’s Women in Leadership Initiative and now serves as a member of its advisory committee. She is also a member of the national Annual Giving committee. Her husband is Robert W. Scully of the Class of 1972.
A campaign is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the University, a time to say, “Here’s who we are; here’s what we do well”—and also a time to identify what needs to be done. Princeton excels because we keep asking, “How do we do it right, and how can we do better?”
Princeton is so successful that alumni sometimes assume, “You don’t need me.” But we do. We need everybody. When I came to Princeton, as a financial aid student from a mid-size industrial city in New England, it was the first time I met people who were not like me; they came from places I had only read or heard about. I learned to step outside my own skin, perceive a wider world, and learned how to apply intellectual rigor to examining and analyzing that world. Then I began to ask: “What am I going to do with this information? What is my role in this world? What impact can I have?”
Immediately after graduation, I was elected an alumni trustee and subsequently was honored to serve as a charter trustee. After a period of immersing myself in career and family, Princeton became a priority again during the middle of the last campaign, when I was asked to chair the New York City region. It was a wonderful time for fundraising because the economy was thriving, and people were very generous; however, at alumni events, anyone looking around the room would see that the people there didn’t look like the undergraduate student body. Princeton had created an extraordinarily diverse cohort of students, but our active alumni still seemed quite homogeneous—and mostly male. Feeling that it was important for the infrastructure of the alumni body to parallel the student body, I started the Women in Leadership Initiative (WIL).
WIL looked for a different way to bring people back to Princeton, because one size really doesn’t fit all. For instance, research showed that many women had loved their undergraduate experience, but the opportunities that kept male alumni engaged didn’t necessarily resonate for women, so WIL tried different types of activities and received a great response.
Princeton has made tremendous progress since the last campaign. A recent off-site campaign planning meeting included Princetonians of different ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. What did they have in common (besides being stunningly bright, full of ideas, and brimming with energy)? They all loved Princeton. Alumni no longer look alike, and our backgrounds are no longer homogeneous, but we have shared experiences and shared values. We believe that quality higher education matters, it is a privilege, and it has impact. We also believe that elite education offers the opportunity for true social mobility, a foundation for our country.
I tell people they should support Princeton not only because it’s an outstanding university, but also because it’s a responsible institution. Princeton is financially healthy today because the budgetary process has been a careful one, because the endowment has been invested exceedingly well, and because alumni have consistently supported annual funds. This is an institution that will be around for many years to come, making your investment secure. For this campaign there was a rigorous process to decide what is really needed. We’re asking for resources to build on existing strengths and to develop new initiatives because the world is changing, and Princeton should respond accordingly.
Last but certainly not least, we Princetonians are once again blessed with extraordinary leadership in President Shirley Tilghman. Working together, we can achieve the successful campaign Princeton so truly deserves.