Hal Mayforth

More than a third of the nearly 2,000 students who participated in an Undergraduate Student Government referendum in April said there has been a decline in the overall quality of student life due to top-level administration decisions, with this belief rising from 16 percent among freshmen to 52 percent among seniors.

The proportion of seniors — 20 percent — who expressed “strong disapproval” of the way the administration has been running Princeton was four times that of freshmen. 

In the free-response section of the referendum, grade deflation was by far the most commonly referenced grievance, followed by lack of student input on policies. 

“Two years ago, President Tilghman told The Daily Princetonian that ‘it would be truly foolish for a university to admit brilliant students from all over the world, and then pay no attention to their views about the university,’” said Kyle Smith ’09, who designed the four referendum questions. “Her statement does not appear to square well with student opinion.”

Some said the results reflected students’ reservations about what is new and different.   

“Generally, I think people tend to resent change within institutions,” said Jordan Blashek ’09, “though the fact that the administration just unveils new policies without warning has not helped the situation, either.”

Added Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson: “The past four years have been a time of very significant change in undergraduate student life, and that may have proven to be challenging for some students.” 

Some respondents said the wording of the referendum questions may have led to an exaggerated view of student dissatisfaction. And while others complained that the administration is running Princeton like a “business” and is more concerned with its public image than students’ welfare, a significant number felt that the administration’s intentions were good.

Senior class president Tom Haine ’08 said the results also might illustrate the inevitable disillusionment of college students over time but added: “If this is something other than the usual sort of cynicism toward authority so often found in college students, then it should be taken seriously and addressed.”