The news that Shirley Tilghman would step down as president at the end of the academic year was not a complete surprise, coming as it did shortly after Princeton’s $1.88 billion fundraising campaign. College presidents often leave the post after a campaign, and Tilghman already had outlasted most of her peers. The average tenure for a college president these days is about eight-and-a-half years; Tilghman has been in the job for 11.
Tilghman told University trustees of her decision on the day that PAW was going to press, and so this issue includes only brief coverage. Most of what will be written about Tilghman’s tenure over the next weeks, here and elsewhere, surely will focus on her many accomplishments, including the expansion of Princeton’s groundbreaking financial-aid program; the transformation of the campus with projects such as Whitman College, the Lewis Library, and the neuroscience institute; the steps toward the planned arts district; and the expansion of the Center for African American Studies.
But I will remember other things, as well. President Tilghman has not always approved of PAW’s coverage of University news, and yet, whether the news was good or bad, she responded to our questions with honesty and thoughtfulness. She welcomed our staff into her office. She expressed great pleasure when PAW readers took note of the President’s Page in each issue. These are small things, given the huge job of any university president, but I will miss them.
In a few days, during the weekend of the Princeton-Harvard football game, Princeton will mark the success of the Aspire fundraising campaign. There will be great celebration. But with this coming farewell, it will be bittersweet.