In a wide-ranging conversation Monday, Dec. 14, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber updated Princeton town officials on the University's strategic and campus planning efforts and discussed ways the University and community may continue to collaborate on areas of mutual interest.
The public meeting at the Monument Hall municipal building was the third annual session among Eisgruber, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, and Princeton Council members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller, Heather Howard, Lance Liverman, Bernard Miller and Patrick Simon.
Eisgruber and Lempert called the informal discussion an opportunity for University and town leaders to keep open channels of communication and foster a productive relationship.
"This is a very valuable tradition and one that I hope will continue in the future," Eisgruber said.
In advance of the meeting, the University shared a summary of various contributions to and partnerships with the town this year, including: a $2.86 million voluntary payment to the town; a $7.9 million property tax payment; joint trainings between campus and municipal police; a new bike rental program at Princeton Station; and contributions to numerous community resources such as the Princeton Public Library, Princeton Fire Department, and Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad.
During his introduction, Eisgruber said the University plans to issue a strategic plan by spring 2016.
"That document will be a framework that does not include a list of things we are going to do, but rather a set of University priorities against which specific projects might be evaluated," Eisgruber said.
He noted some key themes that have emerged from the strategic planning process, including: emphasizing Princeton's educational model as a liberal arts and research institution; the importance of University initiatives that make a difference locally and in the world; and the impact of technology on higher education.
"We remain very committed to affordability and access," Eisgruber said. "I am very proud throughout Shirley Tilghman's presidency and into mine that we have continued to increase the number of students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and that is a commitment we need to continue."
While no plans are in place, Eisgruber said he hopes the University could slightly expand its undergraduate population — as it has in past decades — so more qualified students could benefit from a Princeton education. He added that expansion must be done in a way that preserves the academic and residential experience for students.
As for areas of shared interest, Eisgruber and municipal officials talked about the University's next 10-year campus plan; local transportation needs; the University's new Entrepreneurial Hub in downtown Princeton that connects campus and regional entrepreneurial networks; increased collaboration between the University's Department of Public Safety and Princeton Police Department; and how the University and town can support a diverse and inclusive community.
Council member Simon recognized University efforts to inform the town about land use and building projects, and asked how residents may play a role in the University's campus planning process.
While universities like Princeton must continue to pursue new teaching and research opportunities, Eisgruber said the University can grow in a way that also is mindful of the surrounding community.
"We appreciate there is sensitivity in a town we all care about regarding the uses of these properties," he said. "There is a very high priority for us to continue to include the town in these discussions."
Lempert noted how the University filled a community need by expanding TigerTransit shuttle service after NJ TRANSIT discontinued its bus to the hospital in Plainsboro. She asked how the town and University could address other transportation issues.
Eisgruber said he is particularly concerned about vehicles commuting to campus, and finding ways to improve traffic, reduce parking needs and promote sustainability. He recently began biking to campus whenever possible and said he appreciated the town's efforts to make Princeton bicycle-friendly.
"We need to find ways to make mass transportation effective," Eisgruber said. "I don't want to suggest that we can somehow substitute for what NJ TRANSIT does in the region, but this is an area where there can be real opportunities for us to cooperate in a way that is good for the town, region and University."
Council member Howard said she is pleased with the improved coordination and communication between municipal and University emergency officials. She also asked about the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.
Eisgruber said the University has added staff to focus on sexual misconduct issues and made changes to its disciplinary process. He also noted the launch of bystander intervention programs to encourage students to intervene or get help before an incident occurs.
"This is a set of issues that affects not only universities … but it affects young women and men [across the country]," Eisgruber said. "As we are thinking about these things jointly in terms of our responsibilities as town and University, we have to care about changing the culture that produces these assaults. It is a culture that isn't just a university culture. ... I feel very grateful for the cooperation with the town regarding the policing aspect, but I think there is a bigger issue underneath this that we all have to work on."
As a final thought, Lempert asked how the group could ensure that all students feel welcome on campus and in the community. The discussion followed an earlier question by council member Butler about how the town could follow the University's lead in creating more inclusive spaces and policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
"Our students think about the town and the University as the place where they live … and I think our University and this town are good places from the standpoint of diversity," Eisgruber said.
He noted, however, more is needed to address recent concerns expressed by students at Princeton and colleges across the country.
"What we are seeing on college campuses right now, I believe, is a reflection of concerns about entrenched stereotypes and systemic racism in our society. … There is a heightened sensitivity and urgency by students to combat these stereotypes wherever they find them," Eisgruber said. "It is important for us as a University and a community to come together around that."
One area of focus, Eisgruber said, are the subtle cues the University sends to students about identity, such as the artwork and iconography displayed on campus.
"We want to find ways to show the University embraces diverse identities," Eisgruber said. "It matters whenever this council embraces diversity and when the town of Princeton finds ways to celebrate that."