More than 500 alumni and friends of Princeton attended a town-hall meeting with President Eisgruber ’83 Tuesday night at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia. It was, organizers said, the largest gathering ever of Princeton alumni, family, and guests in the City of Brotherly Love.
There was, of course, the usual profusion of orange and black as well as distinguished-looking “locks of gray.” But the gathering, hosted by the Princeton Club of Philadelphia, also included many young representatives of the “new Princeton,” whose presence symbolized the University’s commitment to diversity.
Eisgruber, in his second year as president, fielded questions from classmate Mark Bernstein ’83, senior writer of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, about a variety of hot-button topics — grades, sexual misconduct policies, admissions, socioeconomic diversity, the possibility of expanding the size of the freshman class to make “the gift” of a Princeton education available to more, and whether Ivy League students are “excellent sheep.”
The University’s grading policy usually is the first question lobbed at him wherever he goes, Eisgruber rued, including in Seoul, South Korea. Lauding the special faculty committee that studied the matter, he applauded the proposal to remove “numerical caps” on A’s (what students call “quotas” in what has become known as the grade-deflation policy).
The committee found no evidence that the policy adversely affects students in the job market, Eisgruber noted, but there was evidence that it increases student stress about employment prospects. He endorsed the recommendation — scheduled for a faculty vote Oct. 6 — that individual departments establish their own standards of excellence and that students receive other forms of feedback so that they can measure their progress more meaningfully.
“It’s not the case that all [student] work is good,” he said. “And we need different kinds of feedback to express that.” He added: “I think it’s a good report, and I do hope the faculty approves it.”
With regard to the University’s revised policy on sexual misconduct, Eisgruber said it was necessary to implement disciplinary procedures that strike a balance between “fairness to students and compliance with federal law.”
“The only acceptable number of sexual assaults on campus is zero,” he said.
Eisgruber said he “vehemently disagreed” with William Deresiewicz’s recent book and article in The New Republic that described Ivy League students as “excellent sheep” and “zombies.” Some of his most rewarding moments as president, Eisgruber said, are encounters and conversations with students, who are not narrow, grade-grubbing wonks who view Princeton as a glorified vo-tech school.
“I just don’t recognize the students he describes,” Eisgruber said. While Princeton is competitive, he said, students are strongly encouraged to pursue their passions — “to study the things they love.”
Fielding a question from the audience, Eisgruber said his vision for the future of the University revolves around three components: service, access, and excellence. “Teaching and research of unsurpassed excellence are the beating heart of the University,” he declared.