In June, Shirley Tilghman marked one decade in office, leading the University through times of both boom (Whitman College, Lewis Science Library, and new academic programs) and bust (budget cuts and layoffs). PAW editors Marilyn Marks *86 and W. Raymond Ollwerther ’71 spoke to her for an hour in July about what she has accomplished and what remains to be done. (Tilghman also spoke at length with PAW on her fifth anniversary: See the Sept. 27, 2006, issue.) Among other topics, Tilghman addressed Princeton’s financial situation, admissions, problematic town-gown relations, grading, and the aftermath of the suicide of lecturer Antonio Calvo in April. Here are excerpts of the discussion, edited for clarity and brevity.
We’d like to start with what you view as your greatest accomplishments and challenges, and whether your priorities have changed in the last five years.
If I think about the things that have happened in the last five years that I am particularly pleased about, I would have to put in that category the impact that the Lewis Center has begun to have on the life of the campus. It’s the engagement of students and faculty — not just in the Lewis Center, but also the intersection between the Lewis Center and academic departments: the most famous examples being the great collaborations with the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the music department over the Pas d’Acier and then Boris Godunov. We’re going to have another extravaganza next February: Eugene Onegin is the third in this trilogy of great Slavic masterpieces that are being re-introduced to American audiences.
Background: Simon Morrison *97, a professor in the music department, has spent the last five years reviving three of Sergei Prokofiev’s works. In 2005, under his direction, “Le Pas d’Acier” was performed in the Berlind Theatre for the first time since 1931; in 2006, he oversaw the world premiere of “Boris Godunov” at the Berlind.
I think the Lewis Center is being realized in the way that I hoped it would. Obviously, it is also one of the biggest challenges we have right now, which is to ensure that the expansion in its space — which is absolutely essential — can be realized. This has been an enormous challenge politically — as opposed to in a fundraising way or in a design way. It’s really been largely a political challenge with the community. We’re hoping that this will be resolved certainly by the fall. And if we can’t resolve it at the site that we have proposed — at Alexander Road and University Place — we’ve already begun planning for an alternative site.
I am really thrilled by what has happened in the Center for African American Studies. The blueprint for how we imagined African-American studies at Princeton — as not a closed enclave, but an idea that would be realized all over campus — I think has really happened. And it’s happened largely by identifying brilliant young scholars who have come to Princeton and are now in the Department of Art and Archaeology and in the Woodrow Wilson School and sociology and English, and on and on, and yet at least some fraction of their academic life is spent interested in issues of race and how it intersects with American life.
The next category is what is happening in both environment and energy. The Princeton Environmental Institute, which preceded my coming into office, has expanded and enlarged opportunities for students who are interested in and concerned about environmental issues. [PEI director] Steve Pacala reports that 20 percent of the graduating class took classes or had internships or summer research experiences in PEI. That’s an extraordinary accomplishment. And what Emily Carter is beginning to do with the new Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment [as its director]: Her focus initially is clearly going to be on alternative energy and issues related to energy like the development of storage batteries — for a very good reason. We’re already very strong in environmental issues, but we need to strengthen our portfolio in energy. I see these two entities — along with the STEP [Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy] program in the Woodrow Wilson School — as a three-legged stool that puts Princeton very much at the center of the work that universities and not-for-profits and governmental agencies are going to be doing in the future to solve what I think is going to be one of the biggest challenges.
And, of course, if you could imagine the day that I went down to the neuroscience building and was able to push the plunger (at least metaphorically; I actually pushed the button to explode the bedrock) to get the neuroscience and psychology building under way at a time we were really last summer still very much in the depths of the recession, thanks to a handful of enormously generous alumni who were willing to help us out. If you watch the strength of both the neuroscience certificate program, which is growing every year, and the new Ph.D. program that is attracting stunningly good students, the educational mission of the neuroscience institute looks as strong as the research mission, which is world-class.
So these are things I continue to watch. They’re works in progress, none of them is fully formed, but I think they’re all launched and launched well.