Eisgruber outlines strategic planning process for University

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber announced at the Feb. 10 meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) that the University has begun a strategic planning process.

The process, which started at the January meetings of the Princeton University trustees, will involve many members of the campus community and continue through the 2014-15 academic year. It will be focused on identifying the University's evolving needs and challenges, and creating a framework for allocating resources and assessing new initiatives. (Slides from the presentation [.pdf] are posted on the CPUC website.)

"The strategic planning process will help us, guide us, in the years ahead and focus the University's energy and mission," Eisgruber said. "The University's mission is about education, research and the common good."

The CPUC is a deliberative body made up of about 50 administrators, faculty members, undergraduates, graduate students, alumni and staff members. Held in Betts Auditorium in the School of Architecture, the Feb. 10 CPUC session was a town hall-style meeting with Eisgruber.

Eisgruber said the process will address such issues as identifying what distinguishes Princeton from other research and liberal arts institutions, recognizing opportunities and risks that most require the University's attention, and determining how the University should maximize its resources over the next five to 10 years in service of its mission.

Planning will take place at various levels of the University — with trustees and with members of the campus community — with periodic public updates, Eisgruber said. "It will involve lots of different pieces of the campus and a lot of different kinds of questions," he said.

While some new committees may be formed, much of the work will be done through established committees and processes. For instance, Eisgruber said, the Faculty Advisory Committee on Policy is being revived after several years of limited activity.

Eisgruber offered his preliminary views on some of the issues that will be considered during the planning process, with the expectation that his views will change as the process unfolds.

Princeton's values, he said, are reflected in what it is and aspires to be: a world-class university with a distinctive emphasis on undergraduate liberal arts education and doctoral education, which offers a small number of small, high-quality master's degree programs; is a warm, inclusive and engaged community; is affordable for all admitted students; and has an informal motto of "In the Nation's Service and in the Service of All Nations." Other characteristics include an endowment-driven budget; a beautiful, walkable, suburban campus; a small scale; and reliance on government revenue for sponsored research.

Some of the significant trends affecting the University's operations are a growing inequality in the United States and the rest of the world; the rise of internationalization and online technology in education; the federal government's budget pressures; the possibility of long-term economic stagnation; an intense market demand for high-quality undergraduate education; political skepticism about the value of liberal arts education and basic research; and changing patterns of philanthropy.

"I think the trend of growing inequality in American society and the world is actually the most important right now for defining the set of challenges that we face as an institution, as a university, in the years going forward," he said. "In circumstances where we're contending with this kind of inequality and where Princeton will be judged partly by reference to that problem in the world, we have to justify everything we do on the basis of its relationship to the common good. We need to be thinking, as an institution where every student and faculty member who comes onto this campus is blessed by virtue of the opportunities that they have, about how we translate that position into things that matter for the common good."

The University should emphasize that it contributes to society through its rigorous scholarship on fundamental questions, outstanding education for talented students, and training for emerging scholars, Eisgruber said.

Eisgruber called for renewing the public service ideals of Woodrow Wilson, Princeton's 13th president and the 28th president of the United States. Wilson coined the first half of Princeton's informal motto, "In the Nation's Service and in the Service of All Nations."

Under that heading, Eisgruber outlined four broad areas for exploration and initial questions to guide that research:

  • Sustaining and enhancing scholarly excellence that makes a difference in the world: How do we build financial support for world-class research and innovation? How do we fortify the humanities at a time when they are both urgently needed and under siege from policymakers? How do we ensure that graduate students have the resources they need to become scholarly and professional leaders? On what schedule do we renovate or replace Princeton's research, teaching and residential facilities?
  • Making strategic academic investments: Where does Princeton have the greatest opportunity to provide teaching and research relevant to long-term issues of fundamental importance? For example, can Princeton do more to answer basic scientific questions about sustainability and the environment or do more to meet the demand for knowledge about society, culture, politics and economics in diverse regions of the world?
  • Enabling more students to contribute to the world in more ways: When should we expand the undergraduate student body again (to address scarcity while preserving Princeton's distinctive culture and sense of community and ensuring that we have needed capacity in residence halls, academic departments and student services)? How can we reach more students from low-income families? For example, should we create a transfer program that could attract military veterans and community college students? How can we respond to the demand for international exchange programs and realize the benefits of international diversity?
  • Making leadership, citizenship and service central to the Princeton experience: How can we make public service a defining part of the Princeton experience? How can Princeton itself take a global leadership role in higher education?

Eisgruber said the University should not be focused on rankings, but should constantly be asking “whether or not, given the resources and opportunities we have here, we are contributing in the best possible way to education and research and the well-being of the world. That's the question we should always be asking ourselves," he said.