Tilghman covers range of topics in town hall meeting

Feb. 12, 2008 9:53 a.m.
Q&A with Shirley Tilghman

President Shirley M. Tilghman covered topics ranging from the University's fundraising campaign and the new Campus Plan to efforts to address high-risk drinking among students during her annual "town hall" meeting Monday, Feb. 11.

Below and bottom left: Following a brief presentation, Tilghman answered questions from the audience.

Photos: Brian Wilson

President Shirley M. Tilghman discussed her travels on behalf of the University along with matters that are never far from her thoughts during a "town hall" meeting Monday, Feb. 11, in the School of Architecture's Betts Auditorium.

The annual event represented this month's Council of the Princeton University Community meeting. One of the fundamental reasons the CPUC was created in 1970 was to provide a direct means of communication on a regular basis between the president of the University and members of the Princeton community.

"This is an opportunity for me to talk to members of the community about some things that are currently on my mind and then to give everyone an opportunity to ask questions about things that are going on in the University," Tilghman said.

She began by focusing on the University's comprehensive fundraising campaign that was kicked off in November to raise $1.75 billion over the next five years. She said funds are being raised in a wide variety of areas that are designed for two purposes: to strengthen aspects of the University that are already part of Princeton's fabric, such as financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students; and to respond to new fields and changes in academic disciplines that are underrepresented so that, for example, Princeton sustains its historic position of leadership in the natural sciences with its new neuroscience institute. She also highlighted the initiative to expand offerings in the arts to meet student demand.

Q&A with Shirley Tilghman

Tilghman said that these and other programs are on her list of topics as she travels to meet with alumni and donors. She said she had just returned from a trip to the West Coast and soon would be leaving for Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.

One member of the audience asked Tilghman what she heard when she was on the road.

Tilghman said a perennial question these days is: How can the University justify a $1.75 billion campaign given the size or the growth of the endowment over the last five or six years? She said she usually breaks the issue down into two questions.

"The first is: Why should you give to Princeton?" she said. "My answer is that generations of Princetonians who came before you gave generously to provide you with the quality of education you received. The cost of educating a graduate student or an undergraduate student far exceeds the full cost. The gap is made up by income from the endowment. So a previous generation paid for your education. Now it's your turn to do the same for the next generation."

Tilghman also mentioned that Princeton is in the business of producing "public goods."

"It's wrong to think the University is providing private goods to the lucky few who attend. We provide public goods," she said, citing examples such as social mobility and ideas and innovation that help the country as a whole thrive.

Tilghman's second question is: Why give to a University that appears so well off?

"The answer is because the resources in our endowment are not 100 percent restricted, but a very significant fraction are restricted to the items for which the gifts were dedicated," she said. "We don't have the flexibility to move the resources where we want."

Q&A with Shirley Tilghman

Turning to another topic, Tilghman discussed the 10-year Campus Plan that recently was highlighted in a 24-page brochure mailed to many members of the University community and posted online. The comprehensive strategy to guide development through 2016 and beyond was produced over the last two years following thorough analysis of the 380-acre campus by a team of experts and significant involvement by stakeholders.

"You'll see that it's a very ambitious campus plan," Tilghman said, "which is designed to strengthen very specific areas of the campus, one of them being the arts and transit neighborhood, another being what we're thinking of broadly as the science district and [another with] enhancements to the School of Engineering so that we can begin to realize some plans for that school, the most important of which is our ability to address climate change and alternative energy."

Tilghman also mentioned additional elements of the Campus Plan, including enhancing the quality of the landscaping, recommitting resources to sustainability, improving pathways and vistas, addressing parking and transportation, and focusing on housing.

"I hope all of you will look at what's available on the Web and provide us with feedback," she said. "You will see a very tight connection between the plan and the campaign."

The final item Tilghman covered was the Alcohol Coalition that was formed in November to take a comprehensive look at issues related to high-risk alcohol use among undergraduates.

"We have been, for many years, concerned about students who engage in high-risk drinking," she said. "My concern about this went up many degrees of magnitude last year when I sat in the intensive care unit with the parents of a freshman who was lying on a bed hooked up to dozens of monitors and learned that the chance of this young person's survival was 50-50."

"There is a small, but finite number of students who are risking their lives through high-risk drinking," Tilghman added. "We just need to continue to think about things we can do."

She encouraged faculty, staff and especially students to participate in activities the Alcohol Coalition has planned to gather ideas and information, including three workshops planned in February.

"Please help us think about this issue," she said.