When Princeton’s board of trustees debated the style of architecture that would be appropriate for a new residential college, Meg Whitman ’77 recalls, it was the young alumni trustees who were the strongest supporters of the collegiate gothic style.
“The reason they were so passionate is the permanence and tradition,” Whitman, the president and CEO of eBay and a former Princeton trustee, said in a Sept. 17 interview with PAW. “They wanted it to be an icon of what Princeton really stood for. It looks like Princeton.”
A $30 million gift to Princeton in 2002 by Whitman and her family became the cornerstone for what would become the largest single construction project in University history. Whitman College, a 500-student residential college built at a cost of $136 million, opened its doors this fall and was dedicated Sept. 27 — the key to an 11 percent expansion in undergraduate enrollment and the launching of the four-year residential college system.
The new college, Whitman said, is “what I envisioned — it’s spectacular.” Asked by architect Demetri Porphyrios *80 if she liked how the college plans had been realized, Whitman said she replied: “I don’t think it could be any better: It’s an A.”
Whitman said she was very involved in the planning of the college’s high-ceilinged dining hall, donated by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife and named Community Hall in honor of eBay’s community of buyers and sellers. “I spent a lot of time on that dining hall,” she said. Her favorite spot in the college is an octagonal, semiprivate wood-paneled dining room off the main dining hall. “I’d love to have dinner there,” she said.
Whitman said she also pressed for the college to offer as many single rooms as possible and served “as a cheerleader” for Porphyrios.
Whitman, who entered Princeton as a premed student but became an economics major and played squash and lacrosse, said she “loved every minute” of her college experience. “It gave me the chance to experience things I never had a chance to experience, and self-confidence to pursue a full range of options,” she said.
But Princeton today, she said, is “stronger and better,” with more opportunities; it’s bigger and more diverse and much more global. Whitman and her husband, neurosurgeon Griffith Harsh IV, have two sons; both attend Princeton, one as a senior and one as a freshman.
Whitman said she hopes students living in Whitman College “will appreciate the value of community, and to connect with other students in ways they might not otherwise ... to really understand the power of a close-knit community” — a belief, she said, that stems from her experience with those who do business with eBay.
While visitors to Whitman College have been struck by a level of amenities and architectural details not found at the other residential colleges, Whitman said that shouldn’t be a concern. “If you put something in the ground, you have to take a very long view — what will be necessary 50 to 100 years from now,” she said. “You can’t build what is the standard for today; you must build a standard for tomorrow.”