At the beginning of last spring, Tilghman was unsure of her future, she told The Daily Princetonian on Saturday. The Aspire campaign was set to finish over the summer, and in 2009 Tilghman had said she would follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Harold Shapiro GS ’64, and step down at the conclusion of a major fundraising push.
But last February, Tilghman said those plans were no longer realistic. There were many more projects she wanted to pursue, such as the Arts and Transit Neighborhood, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and the expansion of the neuroscience program. She said she also had hoped to see a “gradual change” in campus social life, partially by expanding the residential college system.
Seven months later, Tilghman has announced her resignation and will not get the opportunity to see those projects through.
In her Saturday-morning email to the student body announcing her resignation, Tilghman said there is a “natural rhythm” to university presidencies, language she also had used in 2009 when she indicated her plans to retire after the conclusion of the Aspire campaign. However, she said Saturday that her decision to step down has nothing to do with the completion of the campaign.
Rather, she said she would need at least five more years to oversee new projects from their inception to their conclusion and that she could not envision herself serving as president for a total of 16 or 17 years.
“You’ve been here long enough to know that that’s about the amount of time it takes to get something done at this University,” she said. “We are not a command-and-control climate or environment, and that means that you need time to build support, to build consensus, to build resources, to get a major new project underway.”
Over the summer, Tilghman began to make a pro-and-con list to help her make the decision of whether to leave the University, in what she described as her “usual analytic scientific way.” However, this was not a simple process for the University’s president.
“I was completely uncertain about what I was going to do,” she said. “Honestly, I was in a state of considerable indecision about it.”
On the pros side was the fact that she could not see future initiatives through their completion. However, at the same time, she noted that she had become attached to her job, describing her position as “a privilege, an honor and a blast.”
Tilghman spoke frequently over the summer with chair of the University Board of Trustees Kathryn Hall ’80 regarding a potential retirement. While Hall noted that Tilghman had not always been planning to leave at the conclusion of the Aspire campaign, this initiative’s success provided Tilghman with an opportunity to reflect upon her career.
“It gave time for Shirley in particular to take a breath, step back and really think about [her retirement],” Hall said. “And in her mind she really felt that with this large accomplishment, having worked tirelessly ... for 11 years, and with a 12th year, that this was really a time for her to announce her retirement and to think about her next chapter and for Princeton to identify a new president.”
After a number of conversations, Tilghman said she decided for sure to step down at some point over the summer. Hall said that she became certain that Tilghman would step down at the beginning of September.
No other member of the board was made aware of Tilghman’s decision until this week’s board meeting, Hall said.
Hall said that the board was not at all concerned with either Tilghman’s position on Google’s Board of Directors or the subpoena that was recently filed against her as a result of her affiliation with Google.
On Friday evening, the board held a committee of the whole during its executive session. According to Tilghman, this is normally the time where she presents her annual report, and she suspects that many of the trustees were expecting her to do just that. Instead, Tilghman announced her plans to step down at the end of the year.
The initial reaction amongst most of the trustees, Hall said, was “shocked silence.” Hall said the trustees are overwhelmingly supportive of Tilghman and wish that she would stay on. Tilghman spent the rest of the session explaining her decision, and at the end of the meeting, all the trustees gave her a standing ovation.
No one on the board encouraged or pressured Tilghman to step down, Hall said. Tilghman said many of the trustees encouraged her to stay in her post but were “gracious” enough to respect her final decision.
“They were very generous,” Tilghman said. “They feel, as I do, that together — the board, the faculty, students, staff — we’ve done a lot of good things in the last 11 years and a lot of things to be proud of.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/23/31208/