Tilghman letter on stepping down as the 19th president of Princeton University

Letter sent by President Shirley M. Tilghman on Sept. 22, 2012

Dear members of the Princeton University community,

Yesterday afternoon I informed the Board of Trustees that I plan to step down as the 19th President of Princeton University at the end of this academic year. For the last 11 years I have had the extraordinary privilege of serving as your president. These years have been joyous ones for me, and the highlight of my professional career. I will always be grateful for your trust and friendship.

There is a natural rhythm to university presidencies. My own began with a listening tour in which I scrambled up a very steep learning curve to understand the complex task of presiding over a modern research university. Those conversations reinforced for me the qualities that make Princeton such a distinctive place — a dedication to excellence in everything we do; a pledge to make education affordable for every talented student we admit; a strong sense of community on campus and beyond; a devoted alumni body with a commitment to service as an obligation of receiving a world-class education. I learned about the many things we do exceedingly well, and must preserve as our first priority, but I also identified aspects of the University where we could do better, and where we needed to grow. The middle years were spent formulating plans to effect those changes, recruiting the champions who would make them happen, and inspiring the generosity of our remarkable alumni, parents and friends in the Aspire campaign. With the major priorities accomplished or well on their way to being realized, and the campaign successfully concluded, it is time for Princeton to turn to its 20th president to chart the path for the next decade and beyond.

I am exceedingly proud of what we have accomplished over the past 11 years. Together we expanded the undergraduate student body, giving more students the gift of a Princeton education, and launched the four-year college system. We greatly increased the number of students on financial aid, and more than doubled the average aid they received. We created a master plan for the future development of the campus that has guided our thinking about architecture, landscaping and sustainability. We echoed the evocative beauty of the historic campus with the addition of Whitman College, while moving briskly into the 21st century with the Lewis Library and Sherrerd Hall. We created the Lewis Center for the Arts, and brought the creative and performing arts into their rightful place at the center of the curriculum so that art is happening everywhere you turn on campus. Undergraduates and graduate students are enthusiastically pursuing the study of the brain in our new Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and the Department of Chemistry has undergone a radical makeover in the new Frick Laboratory by recruiting a new generation of world-class faculty. The Center for African American Studies has leapt into the forefront of the field, defining how ethnic studies will be conceived in the future. Princeton is increasingly looking outward with a global perspective, as reflected in Bridge Year students spending their first year as Princetonians abroad, or in Global Seminar students studying with Princeton faculty all around the world during the summer. The humanities are thriving, with undergraduate and graduate students pursuing certificates in humanistic studies, and faculty publishing ground-breaking books. We rose to the great 21st century challenge of sustaining life on the planet by creating the Grand Challenges Program in the Princeton Environmental Institute and founding the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. We had challenging conversations around the relationship between the University and the eating clubs, and the rightful place for Greek organizations on campus, but those conversations have been conducted with the best interests of Princeton's students foremost in our minds. I believe that together we have made Princeton a stronger and more vibrant University.

In the coming year I look forward to thanking the many individuals who contributed in so many ways to the University's progress. To my faculty colleagues, it has been a great privilege to work alongside you as you defined your disciplines and educated the next generation. To the staff, who so often work behind the scenes, I am amazed by your enduring loyalty and hard work, in good times but especially in the challenging times in the recession. To my colleagues in the senior administration, no one could have asked for better colleagues, whose good judgment, good nature and effectiveness guarantee that this University deserves its reputation for being well managed. And to the past and present members of the Board of Trustees, I have benefited every day from your passionate devotion, sustained support and wisdom. To our outstanding alumni body, a truly raucous locomotive for working so hard for and caring so deeply about your alma mater, and the next generation of its students. And to Princeton's students, you have inspired and challenged me; entertained and educated me; surprised and motivated me at every turn. You are my hope for the future.

I intend to take a year's leave, and return to the faculty and to my other passion — teaching — in the years to come. In the meantime, there is still a lot to do this year!


Shirley M. Tilghman