Multicolored academic regalia clashed with a sea of orange and black as Princeton publicly installed Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 as its 20th president Sept. 22. The hourlong ceremony, held in front of Nassau Hall on a perfect fall Sunday afternoon, was followed by a reception under a large tent in front of Witherspoon Hall and a rock concert in the courtyard below Blair Arch.
Sitting beside Eisgruber on the stage were his three immediate predecessors — William Bowen *58, Harold Shapiro *64, and Shirley Tilghman — as well as 18 college and university presidents from around the world, all either alumni or former members of the faculty or administration. Also on the stage were members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, and administrators. Dozens of alumni clad in their reunion jackets, including a large contingent of Eisgruber’s classmates, were among the estimated 1,200 people at the ceremony.
Board chairwoman Kathryn A. Hall ’80 described Eisgruber, Princeton’s former provost, as “a man who knows this institution well, who shares our deep devotion to it, and who we are confident will guide it with intelligence and judgment.” Speaking from the faculty, psychology professor Deborah Prentice jokingly compared the traditional relationship between professors and administrators to one between cats and cat herders, adding that a strong relationship “grounded in common goals and partnership ... will inspire the unherdable cats to work like dogs for Princeton University.” The presidents of the undergraduate and graduate student governments; a University counsel, representing staff; and Nancy Newman ’78, president of the Alumni Association, also delivered welcomes.
Hunter Rawlings *70, president of the Association of American Universities and a former Cornell president, decried the current “preoccupation with utilitarianism” in higher education, calling instead for a renewed emphasis on other ideals, including ethical insight, the willingness to challenge received opinion, and the simple pursuit of pleasure. “It is the keenest pleasure,” Rawlings said, “to use one’s mind.”
Wearing a presidential robe adorned with 20 bands of gold lace signifying the University presidents, and with Tilghman at his side, Eisgruber then raised his right hand as Hall administered the ceremonial oath. It was his second swearing-in; he had taken the official oath at a June 3 trustees meeting.
Eisgruber’s inaugural address was a defense of liberal-arts education. He criticized recent cuts in funding for public colleges and for basic research, characterizing them as symptomatic of a trend toward short-term thinking. “Notions of the common good and promises of future returns feel abstract and feeble by comparison to the intensity of immediate experience,” he said. “This short-term perspective threatens America’s colleges and universities.”
Eisgruber then cited several enduring convictions that he believes must animate the Princeton community, including the value of a liberal-arts education, of “rigorous research and scholarship,” and of residential and extracurricular activities. “[L]earning, discovery, and understanding are valuable not only instrumentally,” he insisted, “but also for their own sake, as sources of the joy and fulfillment that make a human life worth living.”
Ray Keck III ’69 *78, president of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, praised the address. “He was preaching to the choir,” added Keck’s classmate, Jeffrey von Arx ’69, president of Fairfield (Conn.) University. “It’s very important to have the most prominent educational leaders say that.”
Students also viewed the changing of the guard positively. Neil Hannan ’15 called Eisgruber’s address “cerebral,” while Andrew Frazier ’15 expressed his hope that the new president would avoid dramatic changes in policy, saying the course set by Tilghman “is a fine one to continue.”
The festivities continued with a free concert at the foot of Blair Arch by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a favorite group of the new president. Eisgruber swayed in time to the music with his wife, Lori Martin, and posed for a seemingly endless round of photographs. The day’s events concluded with a Palmer House dinner for family and friends at which Eisgruber’s senior-year roommates — decked out in costumes — surprised him with a musical tribute to his life and achievements, set to tunes from H.M.S. Pinafore.