President Tilghman at Reunions 2012.
President Tilghman at Reunions 2012.

President Tilghman will step down in June, after 12 years at Princeton’s helm. 

Her decision was announced Sept. 22, a day after she informed University trustees who were meeting on campus. The news follows the conclusion of the Aspire fundraising campaign, which raised $1.88 billion over five years. 

Tilghman said she felt her major priorities had been accomplished or were well on their way to being realized. “It was time for a new president to come in, to assess where we are. We’re an extraordinary institution, but we are not perfect, and there are a lot of ways in which we can be better. I think that’s going to be a more critical assessment if it’s done by somebody who’s not going to feel responsible for what’s already happened,” she told The Daily Princetonian. The trustees had not encouraged her to step down, she added.

Tilghman’s accomplishments include implementing the four-year residential-college system with the construction of Whitman College, leading the University through a sharp recession, increasing financial aid, expanding students’ international experiences, creating the Lewis Center for the Arts and a new neuroscience institute, and fighting local opposition to lay the groundwork for the Arts and Transit neighborhood. 

A professor of molecular biology, Tilghman was selected as Princeton’s 19th leader — and its first woman president — in May 2001.

After stepping down she will begin a one-year leave, during which she plans to spend time in London, and then will return to the University to teach. The search for a successor will be led by Kathryn Hall ’80, chairwoman of the executive committee of the Board of Trustees.

News of Tilghman’s decision broke as this issue of PAW was going to press; see the Oct. 24 issue for more coverage.