By Christopher Connell â71
Nine hundred alumni, parents, and others packed a hotel ballroom a few blocks from the White House on Nov. 20 to meet new President Christopher Eisgruber â83 and, judging from the loud applause and locomotive at the end, they liked what they heard. Â Eisgruber, fielding questions from political journalist Todd Purdum â82 and the audience, held forth on topics from the meningitis outbreak to the unpopular, decade-old effort to get stingier with A grades (itâs being rethought); to college rankings (âperniciousâ and âridiculousâ notwithstanding Princetonâs No. 1 ranking from
U.S. News & World Report
); to further expanding the student body (the question is âwhen rather than whetherâ); to requiring computer science (heâs for it); greater diversity (also for it); and curbing sexual assaults on campus (inculcate a culture of honor on campus).
On the meningitis outbreak â eight cases over the past year â Eisgruber said students have heeded warnings to head straight to McCosh Infirmary if they contract a fever, but the University was âvery gladâ to get the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionâs permission to import a vaccine to protect students against this strain. âIt is a hard disease to contract. Itâs not like the flu,â said Eisgruber, but âif you get it, it rapidly produces life-threatening symptoms.â
Eisgruber called an acceptance to Princeton campus âa gift for every student who receives itâ that not only transforms their lives but makes a difference in the world, and he believes thereâs room for âa few moreâ without losing the âintimacyâ of a Princeton education. Pointing to the examples of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor â76 and Elena Kagan â81 and Rep. Terri Sewell â86, Eisgruber said, âWe have become stronger in every aspect of what we do by virtue of our increased diversity.â
Purdum, who writes for Politico and
, noted that Princeton in the same eras produced such diverse public figures as the brothers John Foster and Allen Dulles (Classes of 1908 and 1914) and Norman Thomas (1905); Donald Rumsfeld â54 and Ralph Nader â55; Justices Samuel Alito â72 and Sotomayor â76, and Sen. Ted Cruz â92 and muckraker Josh Marshall â91.Â Is there âany small thing Princeton can do in its own wayâ now to bridge the countryâs partisan divide?
Not one thing but âmany things,â said Eisgruber, including bringing students into a community to not only discuss problems of the day, but also think about fundamental ideas from relativity to Dostoevsky to African art that âtake us away from the issues that divide usâ and âmake the human spirit soar.â
The gathering was the latest on a year-long tour that has taken Eisgruber to New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Hong Kong, with stops in Seattle (Jan. 27), San Francisco (Jan. 29), Los Angeles (Jan. 30), Miami (March 6), London (April 7), Paris (April 8), and Chicago (May 6).
President Eisrguber '83 addresses the audience in Washington, while moderator Todd Purdum '82 looks on. (Photo: Christopher Connell '71)