July 4, 2001
The Real Princeton
by Emily Johnson '01
"Fundraiser. Check. Schmoozer. Check. Genial
Academic. Check. Traditionalist. Check. Student rapport.
Real Princeton. Check.
10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . .
.2 . . . 1 . . . and we have lift-off!"
(Illustration by Henry Martin '48)
What exactly does a university
president have to know?
Harold Shapiro is off
the hook. Students will now barrage Shirley Tilghman with requests
for funds. But it's not as if students see the office of the president
simply as a source for funding for special events, academic pursuits,
or pet projects. In that office they also want a person who understands
the real Princeton.
Student reaction to Dr.
Tilghman's appointment is largely positive, since many have heard
her speak about the human genome project or bioethics or have taken
one of her courses on developmental biology or the origins of the
human condition, a class for non-science
majors. They see her as intelligent, approachable, and involved
in student life.
Some students, however,
are concerned that Tilghman is not an alumnus, that she hasn't shared
something of their own undergraduate experience. I've heard students
say: She didn't go here; she doesn't understand the things we appreciate
- the eating clubs, the residential colleges. Changes that look
good to an administrator may not look good to students.
Let's hope the lack of
a Princeton degree will be irrelevant next to 15 years as a professor
and her own daughter Rebecca's experience as a member of the Class
of 2002. My guess is that Rebecca's participation in an Outdoor
Action frosh trip resulted in Tilghman's having a greater appreciation
of and a personal interest in the program, one of my own favorites.
Other students call her
a female Hal in reference to her Canadian roots and interest in
bioethics. A few staunch conservatives complain about her politically
liberal views. Two articles in the Daily Princetonian highlighted
her past outspoken views on abolishing tenure, which she called
a "dirty trick" on women, and on the inclusion of women
in academic research groups and conferences - interesting at a school
like Princeton that embraces women but keeps some of its good-old-boy
camaraderie. But recently Tilghman became more guarded and began
using more careful language. She told the Prince she would like
to "reexamine" tenure and "study the issue."
There was no immediate call for change. It's too early to see if
the taming of her views is good or bad, but she seems to have careful
political language under control.
Another concern raised
by some students is that by assuming the presidency Tilghman has
to cut back her work on genetics, and academia is losing an innovative
brain and a rarity: a prominent, eloquent woman at the forefront
of research. Additionally, students worry that the academically
trained Tilghman isn't suited to a job that requires schmoozing,
hobnobbing, and polite solicitation of donations. As one student
says, "I'm sure she'll do a good job, but I don't know if it's
the spot she could fill best." Of course, Tilghman has had
experience fundraising. In 1998 she was appointed director of the
new Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, where her duties
included raising money, hiring, financial organization, and physical
and intellectual planning literally from the ground up.
I think Tilghman's focus
on both the pedagogical and administrative infrastructure of academics
is just the thing needed in a new president. The freshman writing
program is already getting a much-needed facelift, but the precept
and advising systems, with their grab bag of experiences, should
also be revamped. With her extensive experience in directing student
research, Tilghman can also evaluate the objectives of the sometimes
haphazard thesis program. Perhaps Shapiro's mammoth fundraising
success will allow Tilghman to concentrate on initiatives and not
force her into fund-raising mode immediately.
In any case, all of these
reservations and approvals illustrate how students view the complicated
role of university president. She must be an academic, but also
a practical administrator. She must be good at fundraising and making
contacts. She must like chatting with students, have a vision for
the university that totters between traditional and forward-thinking,
and make impressive and giddy appearances at sporting events. She
must be a genial host, a hard-hitting decision-maker, a person of
principle with an open mind, someone with the judgment to distribute
funds for community projects, travel, venture capital, and the arts.
With this in mind, students are eager to learn what are her plans
for new buildings, the campus landscape, athletics, Princeton's
role in the Ivy League, the Graduate School, and perhaps most importantly,
dining options. But the biggest demand is that she, as Princeton's
president, must know and appreciate the real Princeton, whatever
that may be.
Emily Johnson is working
at Geotimes magazine
in Washington, D.C., this summer, and in the fall she will work
for Project 55 in Chicago.