Hargadon, Rapelye contribute to Tilghman's legacy
During her career as University president, Shirley Tilghman oversaw a change in admission policy that transformed the undergraduate student body.
While she was a professor at the University, Tilghman sat on the 1997-98 Undergraduate Admission Study Group led by President Emeritus Harold Shapiro GS ’64. The study group examined then-Dean of Admission Fred Hargadon’s admission policy, with some faculty members saying Hargadon was admitting too many athletes and not enough students involved with academics and the arts. Although Tilghman was one of the more neutral members of this group, according to reports in The Daily Princetonian, Tilghman acted on some of the group’s suggestions when she came to lead Nassau Hall.
At a town hall meeting in 2004, Tilghman said she would like to admit more students who are focused on the arts and humanities. This decision would accompany the Wythes Plan, which was proposed in 2000, to increase the size of the undergraduate student body.
Members of the study group also said they wanted more “Stuyvesant” students, meaning students from schools with strong academic programs and limited extracurricular opportunities, like the eponymous New York high school. In 2004, Tilghman visited Stuyvesant and other high schools known for their academics in order to raise interest in the University.
In 2003, two years into her presidency, Tilghman chose Janet Rapelye to replace Hargadon as the next dean of admission. Rapelye was chosen over two other final candidates — Wesleyan College admission dean Nancy Meislahn and Stanford associate admission dean Anna Marie Porras. Rapelye was formerly the dean of admission at Wellesley College.
“Word on the street is that Rapelye and Tilghman really worked to diversify the community in both accepting students and after they are accepted in order to make it less of a bastion of old-boys power that it seemed to be previously,” College Confidential Senior Adviser Sally Rubenstone said.
Rapelye said Tilghman was very involved in setting policy the Office of Admission then implemented.
“Shirley was very clear in wanting us to understand how much she wanted the Princeton education offered to students from every background, especially to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” Rapelye said.
Rubenstone said that Rapelye’s experience at all-female Wellesley gave her the experience required to find a variety of students in the applicant pool. Because fewer students apply to Wellesley and women’s colleges in general, admission officers at these schools have to “dig a little deeper than Ivy League schools have to dig to find promising candidates.”
The admission process itself has also changed under Tilghman and Rapelye. While Hargadon reviewed each application himself and gave the final decision on all admissions, Rapelye uses a committee to review applications. Rubenstone said she heard from College Confidential message boards that, while some people liked Hargadon’s involvement with each acceptance, others felt that Hargadon’s “hyper-holistic review process” resulted in a “cult of personality.” Students whose strengths were not favored by Hargadon may have consistently not been offered admission.
Though Tilghman was not president when the University Board of Trustees unveiled its no-loan financial aid policy in 2001, Tilghman did expand the amount of financial aid offered despite the decline in the size of the endowment during the financial downturn.
“President Tilghman was very supportive of our efforts to have a broader and deeper applicant pool and then to be able to choose the best possible class with no limitations because we’ve got all the financial support we’ve needed,” Rapelye said.