April 4, 2001: President's Page

Excellence in Teaching

As I approach these final months of my presidency, I would like to use my remaining pages in the PAW to look back at some of the initiatives Princeton has taken in recent years to strengthen its commitments to scholarship and research, residential life, and, as the subject of this page, excellence in teaching.

I and many of my colleagues have made teaching one of our highest priorities, and I know from visits with alumni that you agree with the emphasis we continue to place on the teaching of both undergraduates and graduate students. Some of the initiatives of the recent past have redefined the components of a Princeton education.

For example, beginning with the Class of 2000, we changed our distribution requirements for AB undergraduates, expressing them in terms of pedagogical and intellectual purposes rather than subject areas, and broadening them to include courses in epistemology and cognition, ethical thought and moral values, and quantitative reasoning. In other instances we have reaffirmed our commitment to core values, such as small precepts or the advising of independent work by members of the faculty.

We have fostered greater participation by senior facility in the teaching of first-year students in smaller settings by expanding the Program in Freshman Seminars, which has grown to 65 offerings per year. Beginning next fall we are adding a course to the number required of AB students and requiring all freshmen to participate in specially designed writing seminars. We also are strengthening the academic advising program in the residential colleges.

In 1991 we began a program to recognize excellence in teaching through Presidential Teaching Awards that are conferred at Commencement on faculty members with sustained and distinguished records as teachers. On Alumni Day in 1996, I announced a set of Presidential Teaching Initiatives that included a fund for innovation in undergraduate education, visiting professorships for distinguished teaching, and new center for teaching and a learning. In the past five years the fund for innovation has made new courses possible and has encouraged the use of new methods of education, including new technologies, to reinvigorate existing courses. For this coming year we will focus this initiative on improving the academic quality of courses that are typically taken in the sophomore year.

Under the visiting professorship program, we have brought several exceptional teachers to campus each year, including teachers this year in geosciences and the Center to Human Values. With the opening of the Frist Campus Center the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning has moved into its new facilities and has begun to have a significant impact by helping both faculty members and students to become better learners and superior teachers.

To enhance the international experience of a Princeton education, the University has taken steps to increase the number and kinds of programs available to students who wish to study abroad for one or two semesters. In a companion iniative, the extension of need-blind admission to students who are citizens of other countries is also intended to increase the international diversity of perspectives on the Princeton campus.

Science and the technological advances that occur in its wake are having all increasingly important impact on how and what we teach. It is more critical than ever for our students to understand both the promise and limitations of science in dealing with some of our most important challenges. Since its creation in 1989, the Council on Science and Technology has helped to develop better methods of teaching science to non-science concentrators. Moreover, McDonnell Hall has brought the teaching of introd ctory-level courses in physics closer to the center of the department and has provided updated teaching facilities that were not possible in Palmer Hall, the former home of such courses. The renovated seminar and lecture rooms in Frist that have computer outlets and new video equipment receive extensive use. Furthermore, we have increased our overall budget for renovating and upgrading our classrooms to enhance accessibility to these kinds of resources throughout the campus.

The new Educational Technologies Center assists faculty in integrating digital images and Web-based courseware into their instruction. Every course we teach now has a Web page. Thanks to underground optical fiber cable laid in the past decade, 'dormnet' computer services are available to students in their rooms, and we are expanding the use of wireless technologies. Firestone Library is taking increasingly greater advantage of studentsí access to the Web by providing reserve material online. The newly completed Wallace Hall, the new home of the Department of Sociology and several other academic programs, has a seminar room equipped for video conferencing. Our new alliance with Oxford, Stanford and Yale will make it possible for alumni to continue to take advantage of the expert teaching of Princeton faculty through more and improved online courses.

The Friend Center for Engineering Education is well on its way to completion and will offer a state-of-the-art facility where students from every discipline can receive computer training. This is part of a significant effort undertaken by the School of Engineering and Applied Science to develop courses for liberal arts majors to introduce them to tools that are used regularly by engineers and that have wider applicability. In fact, in the past decade, engineering is among the disciplines that have experienced the most impressive growth and change, and I plan to rise the next President's Page to describe these new engineering programs and initiatives in more detail.

I have greatly enjoyed the opportunities I have had to teach while serving as president. I look forward to teaching more courses at Princeton after I leave the presidency. In my, view, teaching is always a learning experience for me as well as for the Students in my classes.