Malkiel to step down as dean of the college

Nancy Weiss Malkiel, the longest-serving dean of the college and the second longest-serving dean in Princeton's history, will step down from that position at the end of this academic year.

Malkiel will conclude her tenure after 24 years as the senior officer responsible for the University's undergraduate academic program. A member of the history faculty since 1969, she plans to take a year's leave and then return to teaching and scholarship.

Only Andrew Fleming West, the first dean of the Graduate School from 1901 to 1928, served longer at Princeton as a dean.

"Nancy Malkiel has had an enormously positive impact on undergraduate students at Princeton, by her focus on the quality of the instruction they receive and their experience in the residential colleges," said President Shirley M. Tilghman. "In her 23 years as dean of the college, she has been responsible for many important advancements in the curriculum, including the expansion of the Freshman Seminar Program and the introduction of the Writing Program.

"She launched the new four-year college system, which gives upperclass students greater residential options, strengthens the connection of all undergraduates to their colleges, and brings undergraduates and graduate students together in residential settings," she added. "Throughout her tenure she has been a champion for excellence in teaching, having created the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, and encouraged innovation through the 250th anniversary teaching fund. She embodies Princeton's commitment to being a great research university that is dedicated to undergraduate teaching."


The dog of the college

She's been part of a profile in The New York Times, she's had a Top 10 list in the humor issue of The Daily Princetonian and she's had an influential investment book dedicated to her.

Skipper (at right in above photo of the dean), the miniature schnauzer owned by Nancy Weiss Malkiel and her husband, economics professor Burton Malkiel, has led quite a life since settling into West College nine years ago.

"She's been here since she was 12 weeks old," Malkiel said. "We brought her home from the breeder on a Sunday afternoon and brought her in here on Monday. We thought it was temporary until she was old enough to stay home."

But the pup was adopted by many in the building and across campus, and her crate in Malkiel's office became permanent. "She's made a huge number of friends," Malkiel said.

Skipper also earned a mention in a Public Lives piece on Nancy in The Times, had her "Life Goals" published as a Prince Top 10 list and appears with Nancy on the dedication page of Burton's best-seller, "A Random Walk Down Wall Street."

Provost Christopher Eisgruber, to whom Malkiel reports, will chair a search committee to seek a successor and soon will announce its membership. He hopes to have a new dean selected by the end of January so that there will be an opportunity for overlap. He said Malkiel has paved the way admirably for her successor.

"When scholars write Princeton's history in the future, they will undoubtedly regard Nancy Malkiel's 24-year deanship as one of the University's greatest," Eisgruber said. "As a result of her administrative talent, her passion for learning and her persistence over nearly a quarter century, she has sustained and improved this University's longstanding commitment to offer the world's best undergraduate education. Nancy will be a tough act to follow, but her successor will have the advantage of building upon the extraordinary foundation that Nancy has laid for education at Princeton."

Malkiel said that she believes her job is the best in the institution because the University is so devoted to undergraduate education. "When I talk to students and parents, I describe Princeton as a world-class research university with the heart and soul of a liberal arts college," she said. "There aren't any others like us. To have the privilege of holding the portfolio for undergraduate education in this place is simply extraordinary."

Malkiel, whose oversight responsibilities include the admission and financial aid offices, said that being part of the process to improve access to Princeton for many students has been one of her greatest joys.

"To see what has happened in terms of financial aid and access to this place for the broadest range of talented students, to see what has happened in terms of the composition of the student body -- its diversity of all kinds, its intellectual strength -- that's enormously gratifying and enormously important for Princeton," she said. "I remember so clearly the moment during the presidency of Harold Shapiro when we first announced the initiatives in financial aid that included the no-loan policy and the elimination of home equity from the calculation of parental assets. I remember saying how proud I was of an institution that chose to spend its resources this way."

The list of accomplishments during Malkiel's tenure is lengthy, according to her colleagues. Eisgruber specifically cited her key role in the recent implementation of the four-year residential college system.

"Nancy's leadership of the residential college initiative enabled Princeton to achieve goals that date from Woodrow Wilson's day, and her achievements will enhance the education of Princetonians for many, many years to come," he said. "From a personal standpoint, she has been for me both a valuable mentor and a treasured colleague. Whatever might happen around the University, I could always count on Nancy to ensure that things were running smoothly in West College."

'A truly remarkable run'

A scholar of 20th-century American history, Malkiel joined the Princeton faculty after earning her B.A. from Smith College and her Ph.D. from Harvard University. She began almost immediately to practice the habits of community engagement that she had learned as a student government leader and newspaper editor at Smith. She found that she thrived on what she calls "the human and intellectual and political challenges" of making a community work better, of leading colleagues to embrace improvement and change.

William G. Bowen, president of Princeton from 1972 to 1988, invited her to take on some early institution-wide roles, including chairing the University's governance and faculty grievance committees and leading an ad hoc committee of senior faculty to make recommendations on the place of women's studies in Princeton's curriculum. In 1982 he appointed her as the founding master of Mathey College. In 1987, when psychology professor Joan Girgus' term as dean of the college came to a conclusion, Malkiel's experience as a college master, coupled with her deep engagement in undergraduate teaching, led Bowen to name her as Girgus' successor.

"To say that Nancy Malkiel has had a truly remarkable run as dean of the college is an understatement!" Bowen said. "When I appointed her to this position some 24 years ago, I was confident that she would do exceedingly well -- but I certainly didn't anticipate that she would serve so successfully for so long.

"As others will also attest, Nancy has been highly effective because of a rare combination of qualities: clear understanding of the purposes of undergraduate education in a major research university; deep appreciation for how faculty work as well as how students learn; all the right values; and a steadiness that is truly extraordinary," he said. "I wish only that all of my appointments had worked out as well as this one has."

While current undergraduates may associate Malkiel most immediately with highly publicized ventures like the new grading policy, the revised pass-D-fail option or the "major choices" initiative, she has devoted the majority of her time to programs that provide the basic framework for students' educational opportunities at Princeton. By Malkiel's own account, the most important of these include the residential college system and five major curricular initiatives.

Malkiel identifies the four-year residential college initiative as one of the most significant developments that have occurred during her time as dean. The initiative was implemented in 2007 with the opening of Whitman College, the University's sixth residential college, and culminated with the redevelopment of Butler College two years later.

Since 1982, five two-year residential colleges had provided housing as well as academic and social support for freshmen and sophomores, while juniors and seniors had lived in upperclass housing. The new system established three four-year residential colleges and paired them with three two-year colleges. Academic advising for juniors and seniors was decentralized into the colleges, and students are now affiliated with their colleges for all four years -- whether or not they live there as juniors and seniors. And some graduate students now reside in the colleges to more closely share their Princeton experiences.

"To have started as a residential college master in 1982 and to have been around long enough to see us begin to realize a century later what Woodrow Wilson set out to accomplish in the early years of the 20th century is enormously gratifying personally and institutionally," Malkiel said.

As for curriculum, Malkiel's account of the five major initiatives during her tenure begins with the expansion of the Freshman Seminar Program. Started with nine seminars in the humanities during 1986-87, the program has grown to offer 70 to 75 seminars a year, with courses from all four academic divisions.

"I've been privileged to be able to work with a succession of close colleagues in the dean's office to nurture and grow this program," Malkiel said. "We're not yet at the point where every freshman who wants a freshman seminar can enroll, but we're much closer to meeting demand. What the seminars do that's so important is to model for beginning students what the intellectual enterprise is about here: that you engage in an intensive exploration of an intellectual question or topic; that you do original research and sustained writing; that you read primary sources and conduct your own experiments; that you learn how to develop the critical faculties and analytic skills that will serve you through your time here; that you interact closely with a member of the faculty and with a small group of peers who will then be among your best intellectual friends going forward."

Like the president, provost and dean of the faculty, Malkiel has taught several times in the program, which many faculty members say provides their best, most rewarding teaching experience at Princeton.

A second new curricular program that has had a lasting impact on undergraduates is the Princeton Writing Program, established at Malkiel's initiative in 2001. All freshmen now are required to take one writing-intensive seminar from among more than 100 new offerings. The Writing Center, where students go for tutorial assistance to sharpen their writing skills, is used heavily by undergraduates at all stages. Collaboration between Writing Program faculty and academic departments is yielding more effective instruction in writing in the disciplines, and new "senior thesis bootcamps" are helping many students with the basic work of turning vast quantities of research into well-structured, persuasive prose.

The revamping of the University's general education requirements is a third curricular accomplishment that Malkiel believes has been important during her tenure. Beginning in the fall of 1996 with the class of 2000, undergraduates have had to complete a new set of general education requirements that were developed under President Shapiro.

"It had been 50 years since the faculty rethought general education requirements here, and fields of knowledge and approaches to knowledge had changed dramatically," Malkiel said. "So we were able -- first in a strategic planning committee, and then in the Committee on the Course of Study over the period of two years, with lots of interaction with the faculty -- to think about what we wanted an educated Princetonian to know."

Courses are now categorized by content and approach instead of in broad disciplinary baskets. New requirements were instituted in areas such as quantitative reasoning, ethical thought and moral values, and epistemology and cognition.

A fourth category of initiatives related to the curriculum that Malkiel considers to be particularly significant involves support for and enhancement of student learning – most importantly, through the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, which promotes innovative and engaged teaching on the part of faculty members, prepares graduate students for the professoriate, and offers an array of programs to support the growth and maturation of undergraduates as they develop intellectually from novice to expert learners.

The fifth set of major achievements that Malkiel believes will have lasting impact is in the international arena. She noted that when she started as dean, most students did not study abroad because of academic and cultural obstacles -- they were worried about everything from completing their junior papers to participating in their eating clubs.

"That kind of insularity didn't make sense," she said. "We've been able to dramatically shift the way we think about international experience. What we're saying now is that international experience should be part of the undergraduate education of every Princeton student. Thanks to the support of successive presidents and provosts for resources that are being dedicated to this enterprise, we've been able to develop a really robust study abroad program, start an international internship program, offer a variety of Princeton-sponsored, Princeton-taught credit-bearing courses abroad in the summer and invest more heavily in support for senior thesis research abroad."

Malkiel also noted the importance of the innovative Bridge Year Program, which is sending its second cohort of students abroad this year. They have deferred the start of their freshman year at Princeton to spend a tuition-free enrichment period abroad focused on public service. She spoke of her experience in late August in greeting the new students who were departing and welcoming back those from the initial cohort who were returning to campus.

"Talking to the students who've come back and seeing what they've experienced and how they've grown -- the maturity and attitudes they're going to take into their education here -- is extraordinary," Malkiel said.

Never satisfied

Shapiro, who was president from 1988 to 2001, worked closely with Malkiel to make enhancement of undergraduate education a centerpiece of his presidency.

"There are always all kinds of pressures to go on with a very good program and sustain it as it is," he said. "She was never satisfied with it. She always thought that we could do better, no matter how good we were. So during the years I was president, the quality of the undergraduate program and the quality of undergraduate student life were given a new sense of vitality and importance here."

Malkiel agreed that it would be easy at Princeton to leave things the way they are, and assume that students would still get a good education.

"But we are always asking, 'What do we need to do next to make it better?'" she said. "To start at the level where you're not dealing with something that is broken and needs to be fixed, and to have the resources and the institutional commitment from the president and provost to say, 'What are we going to do next to make undergraduate education even better?' is an extraordinary situation in which to work."

When she was selected as dean, Malkiel said, she did not think about how long she would stay in administration.

"I was just delighted to have the opportunity to take on this set of responsibilities for undergraduate education, given everything I had done as a faculty member," she said. "I could never have imagined a 24-year run."

Asked why she was stepping down now, she said, simply, "In terms of the longevity of my deanship and the rhythm and schedule of the senior administration, this seemed to be the right moment."

While on leave in 2011-12, she will continue to serve as a trustee of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and as the University's delegate to the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE) Assembly. She is chairing the COFHE Assembly this year and next year.

Malkiel, who arrived at Princeton the year coeducation was being implemented and was both the first woman faculty member in the history department and one of only three in the professorial ranks in the University that year, also intends to work on a book about the history of coeducation at Princeton, set in the broader context of coeducation at some of the University's peer institutions and women's education in the leading women's colleges. Beginning in fall 2012, she expects to do some teaching again. In particular, she plans to lead a freshman seminar on coeducation.