A Day in My Life
Occasionally, a student will come to my weekly office hours with no particular agenda in mind but simply with a desire to meet the president. More often than not, the question “What is it you do exactly?” pops out as my visitor looks curiously around my corner office in Nassau Hall. The short answer, that I am charged by the Board of Trustees to sustain and enhance the excellence and impact of Princeton University by being its greatest critic and its foremost blue sky dreamer, is usually not sufficient. To capture the intellectual challenge, the diverse constituencies, and the managerial complexity of being a university president in the 21st century, it may be helpful to consider what one day in my life—October 5, 2004, to be precise—was like.
7:45 a.m. Arrive at One Nassau Hall with a Small World cappuccino in hand to answer e-mail, sign letters, and read the mail and the Daily Princetonian.
8:45 a.m. Speak in Frist Campus Center to the Academic and Administrative Managers Group, comprising 326 of the senior-most managers in the University, about new initiatives that will be under way this year. Introduce Professor Chris Eisgruber ’83, the new provost, and Mark Burstein, the new vice president for administration. Listen to the latter, Treasurer Chris McCrudden P93, and Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin P06 discuss changes in our control and compliance procedures, which encompass everything from accounting practices to building codes.
10:30 a.m. Call Dennis Keller ’63, chair of the University Resources Committee of the Board of Trustees.
11:00 a.m. Attend a lunch meeting at Prospect House to review our real estate program and to hear presentations by Bob Wolfe ’69 and David Knights S77 on the Forrestal Campus, and by Caroline Clancy on real estate acquisitions for future faculty, staff, and graduate student housing.
1:15 p.m. Meet with Susan Emmett ’05, a concentrator in molecular biology who is writing her senior thesis with me on the future of the experimental use exemption in intellectual property law.
2:00 p.m. Meet with Vice Presidents Janet Dickerson and Bob Durkee ’69, Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan, and Associate Dean Tom Dunne to consider the effectiveness of a letter sent to all freshmen and their parents this summer explaining the University’s policy on fraternities and sororities.
3:00 p.m. Meet with Department of History Chair Jeremy Adelman, along with Dean Dobkin and Provost Eisgruber, to think through ways to support ethnic studies programs at Princeton.
4:30 p.m. Meet with the faculty members of the Committee on Committees (yes, there really is one!) to compile a slate of faculty members to stand for election to the Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements (better known to the campus as the Committee of Three), which advises me on all tenure appointments.
5:30 p.m. Call John Wynne ’67 (known to alumni as Dubby), chair of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees.
6:30 p.m. Call Dr. Lana Skirball P05, Director of the Office of Science Policy at the National Institutes of Health.
7:30 p.m. Take a quick run down to Lourie-Love Field to see how the women’s soccer team is faring against Rutgers (Princeton won, 1-0!).
8:30 p.m. Return to Lowrie House to eat dinner while watching Senator John Edwards P04 and Vice President Dick Cheney debate one another.
11:00 p.m. Answer the day’s e-mail.
While no single day in my life as president is fully representative or
“typical,” this one captures both the tempo and the flavor
of my schedule. What reaches my desk are the issues that have the most
important strategic implications for the future, together with the current
problems that are the most difficult to solve. The range of questions
that I think about makes my job enormously challenging and interesting,
but the joy—which makes even the longest day supportable—comes
from the people with whom I meet and work. Whether I am spending time
with alumni, faculty, students, or staff, I am always struck by the fact
that everyone is proud to be associated with Princeton University and
is committed to ensuring that it remains the finest institution of its
kind in the world. That is what is terrific about being president, not
only on October 5 but every day of the year.