President Hal Shapiro: Thirteen years and $6 billion later, how will Princeton remember his tenure?
The announcement of President Shapiro's retirement cluttered our inboxes and doorsteps all weekend long. But surprisingly, few undergraduates seem to be saddened by the departure of our 18th president. Perhaps that's because so few of us can picture the Princeton experience of 1988, the year President Shapiro took office.
There was no Frist, no Scully, no Stephens Fitness Center. Only old dorms, an old stadium and — of all things — a deficit. President Shapiro transformed the Princeton landscape, preparing the University for further expansion in the 21st century, while remaining committed to teaching and learning in the present.
But his most impressive accomplishment will forever remain the endowment's explosion from $2 billion to $8 billion in just 13 years.
Still, it is hard to say what impact President Shapiro's fund-raising feat will ultimately have on the University. We know only that it will be tremendous, that it will take generations to play out and that he will long be remembered in the annals of Princeton history for it.
As he should be.
But despite the impressive physical legacy that President Shapiro will leave behind, he never articulated the direction in which the enlarged endowment would — and should — take us.
In the past, University presidents have built legacies that directly and dramatically changed the daily lives of undergraduates. Former president Robert Goheen '40 brought us coeducation in 1969, and years later, his successor, William Bowen GS '58, created the residential college system.
In contrast, President Shapiro's relentless fund-raising efforts frequently carried him away from the hallowed grounds of Nassau Hall. Whereas Goheen and Bowen were hands-on, visionary leaders, Shapiro has been criticized both for decentralizing decision-making in Nassau Hall and for his shortsighted vision. He left us the potential for great change, but never directly shaped our college experience.
President Shapiro's presence at Opening Ceremonies and Commencement bookend our time here at Princeton. Unfortunately, few of us had the chance to meet him — let alone see him — in between. At the end of this year, we'll be losing a great leader back to the teaching ranks, but in some ways, we have already missed him.
President Shapiro guaranteed us a well-financed future and his tenure saw — quite literally — many foundations laid. But it will be up to his successor to decide what the future of the Princeton edifice will look like.
Still, President Shapiro's contributions to the University can scarcely be overstated. And there is something more to be said here than "goodbye" or "farewell." As will many thousands of future Princetonians, we thank you, Hal. May you be remembered well and often.
As you should.
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