October 25, 2000

President's Page

The Depth of the Attachment

At the September 22 Board meeting I informed the Trustees that this would be my last year as President. This was a difficult decision since I have enjoyed my time as President so much, but I am eager to return to full-time teaching and research at Princeton. In making my announcement to the Trustees, I tried to capture the depth of the attachment I have to Princeton. This old attachment has deepened and become stronger over the years that I have served as President. It may be difficult for everyone to appreciate how much Princeton has meant to me. Like many in my generation, neither of my parents had the advantage of a college education, and my father did not finish grade school. To have the opportunity, therefore, not only to earn my Ph.D. here but to play a small role in helping Princeton move into the 21st century is something that was outside any world I could possibly imagine even as I approached my college years.

During my presidency I have gained even greater respect for the individuals who make up the campus community-faculty, students and staff-and for the alumni who, in a special way, give their own special meaning to what Toni Morrison has called the idea that is Princeton. For Vivian and me, after spending over 24 years at the University of Michigan as members of the faculty and then during my presidency, it was daunting for us to pull up these deep and satisfying roots and move to Princeton. However, Vivian spoke for us both at the September Board meeting when she told the Trustees that, while it was a difficult separation from the University of Michigan, it was a very easy re-attachment to Princeton. Both of us feel very strongly that the warmth and openness of fellow Princeton alumni contributed enormously to how fast this attachment was secured and to the strength of this tie. For this we are so much in your debt.

I have been asked why I decided to step down at this time. There are, of course, a complex set of personal and professional reasons, but in trying to explain my decision to the Trustees, I used the example of one of my heroes in the area of sports, Sandy Koufax, who retired at the top of his game. I am no "hall-of-famer," but Princeton is at the top of its game. To use another metaphor from sports, this seems to me the right time to pass the baton to my successor. The University is, in almost all ways, in very good shape. While there is much left to be done-a distinguished university is always in the process of becoming-and while future Trustees and Presidents will have many challenges to face, they will also have the human, physical, and financial resources as well as Princeton's great traditions to continue to sustain the University's distinction. There has never been a moment when the campus has been home to so many promising new initiatives in all aspects of campus life. In my judgment, Princeton is entering the new millennium among those institutions that are leading the way in the worlds of education and scholarship. In the end, the greatest satisfaction I have had as President of Princeton has been to build on the work of those who came before me, to suggest new initiatives, to provide the resources required by our faculty and students, and to help prepare Princeton for future generations.

My tenure at Princeton has also been an extraordinary period for family reasons. When Vivian and I arrived on campus on Christmas Day 1987, only one of our daughters was married and we had only grandchild. Now all four of our daughters are married and we have 11 grandchildren. It has been a productive time in our family!

I am pleased that during my tenure as President the University has taken steps to increase connections to alumni. Participation in alumni colleges on and off campus is up significantly. Many alumni stay involved with the University electronically through Tigernet. The new alliance that Princeton has entered into with Yale, Stanford, and Oxford universities is intended primarily to strengthen our teaching at Princeton, but we also hope to develop more diverse and more easily accessible programs in life-long learning for our combined total of half a million living alumni.

I have always associated Princeton alumni with learning, not just because you are defined, in part, by your experiences at Princeton as students, but because you have been in many ways a source of inspiration for me. Alumni have taught me about Princeton and have advised me on how to make Princeton even better. Moreover, the work you have done in your own communities and professions has inspired me. I came to Princeton awestruck by its achievements, and I leave the presidency of Princeton awestruck by what the University can yet become.

You will continue to be central to the University's ongoing efforts to strive to fulfill Princeton's enormous potential.

For all of these reasons, my announcement to the Trustees was a highly emotional moment for me. I wanted to express to them clearly and forcefully the strength of my feelings for Princeton, for the individuals who were gathered in the Faculty Room, and for all of you. I have found over the years that it is through music that I can best express deep emotional feelings. In this instance, my mind went back to the simple lyrics of a distinctively American song, Yes Indeed. The lyrics themselves could not be any simpler; they consist of a single phrase: "I know it's in my soul, yes indeed." For me, Princeton is in my soul-yes indeed!

Thank you all for the many, many kindnesses you have showered on Vivian and me.