May 9, 2007: On the Campus
Dialogue and debate
By Christian R. Burset ’07
Once a week, President Tilghman invites anyone who wants to come to her Nassau Hall office to ask her about anything or for anything — except money.
“I can never anticipate what’s coming in the door,” she said of her office hours. Most attendees are students, though University staff members also turn up. Topics range from the serious — including students’ financial or emotional problems — to the silly.
“The most unusual tend to be requests to participate in some event,” she said. “I just did a video for Roaring 20, which I’m almost terrified to see when it’s done.”
One of her callers April 3 was a regular, Undergraduate Student Govern-ment president Rob Biederman ’08, who updated her on USG projects including a stand-up comedy competition on pre-frosh weekend.
“I’m emceeing, which I’m not looking forward to since I’m not going to be funny,” Biederman said. “You should come.”
“I might,” Tilghman replied. “And I’ll laugh whenever you say anything.”
Her office hours are unusual among Ivy League presidents. Only Harvard’s Derek Bok listed open office hours on his Web site — a total of three hours during the fall, less than Tilghman usually offers in a single month.
Tilghman said her office hours follow a precedent set by her predecessor, Harold Shapiro *64.
“It’s just a matter of setting priorities,” she said. “For me, a high priority is staying in touch with students.”
As the University marks 60 years of organized Jewish life on campus, a debate has emerged about whether an additional chaplain — from the Hasidic Jewish group Chabad — should be appointed to serve Princeton’s Jewish students.
In April, President Tilghman denied a request by Chabad, a 250-year-old, popular and powerful force in the Hasidic movement, to appoint Rabbi Eitan Webb as a University chaplain.
“It’s a question of religious diversity and pluralism,” said Arthur Ewenczyk ’09, Chabad’s student board president. The University recognizes 13 Christian chaplains, he added, and Jews should not be treated differently.
Currently, the only recognized Jewish chaplain is Rabbi Julie Roth, the executive director of the University’s Center for Jewish Life, whose mission is to serve all Jewish students.
Ewenczyk said Chabad provides a smaller, “warmer” environment that some students might prefer over the larger CJL.
CJL leaders say they recognize Chabad’s contributions to campus and have co-sponsored two major events with Chabad this year. The CJL board has “supported the idea that the Chabad rabbi be granted an auxiliary chaplaincy,” its chairman, Professor Dan Rubenstein, said in an e-mail. This “would enable Rabbi Webb to be part of the University’s interfaith council while at the same time ensuring that CJL would remain the University’s official link to the diverse elements of Princeton’s Jewish community,” Rubenstein said.
But the auxiliary chaplaincy idea was described as “fundamentally disingenuous” and “an insult” by former Chabad student board president Will Scharf ’08. “Rabbi Webb has committed his entire life to serving the Princeton University community,” Scharf said in an e-mail.
Tilghman called her decision part of an effort to encourage a single, inclusive Jewish community on campus. “The CJL is a very unusual commitment on the part of a university,” she said. “It was created to be an umbrella capable of embracing all the various parts of Judaism, and we think it has the capacity to let all flowers bloom.”
The University already supports Chabad by recognizing it as a student group, noted the Rev. Frederick Borsch ’57, the interim dean of religious life.
In a column in The Daily Princetonian, Roth said that “because of the relatively small Jewish population at the University, we believe it is critically important for the Jewish community to remain unified and coordinated.” She added that the CJL employs rabbinic leadership, including an Orthodox rabbinic couple, to serve all the major denominations.
Roth said the CJL remains committed to building a stronger relationship with Chabad: “Rabbi Webb and his wife, Gitty, are talented, warm, and creative ... I’m proud of the relationship we’ve built.” Webb also said that the two groups will work together to enhance campus Jewish life.
Christian R. Burset ’07 is a history major from Bernardsville, N.J.