At the helm of their classroom - and of the University
This semester, University Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, former University president Harold Shapiro GS ’64, former Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel, University trustee and Institute for Advanced Study professor Danielle Allen ’93 and Executive Vice President Mark Burstein are all teaching freshmen for three hours each once a week.
Burstein, who oversees the development of University facilities and has not taught a class at Princeton before, said the course aligns with his administrative work and allows him to complement his administrative responsibilities.
“[Higher education] is an area I have read a lot about and have thought a lot about from my existing roles,” Burstein, who does not have a Ph.D, said. Burstein is co-teaching FRS 169: The University: Patron of Architecture or Rapacious Developer with University Architect Ronald McCoy.
Although Burstein said he could not identify clear functional ties between his academic and administrative work, he noted some distinct differences.
“[At work] issues are digested and thought about in sort of bite-sized pieces,” Burstein said. “Teaching really requires you to think about the entire semester, to have time separate from the busy day I have in the office to sit down and prepare for class.”
On the other hand, Eisgruber, who was a Wilson School professor before being named Provost in 2004, said teaching was a return to his academic background. He is currently teaching FRS 139: The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy.
Eisgruber said he uses weekends and after-work hours to prepare for his class, which meets every Tuesday evening.
“The time commitment [for a professor] is very similar to a student’s time commitment for a course,” said Allen, who is teaching FRS 135: Education, Freedom and Equality.
Allen, who is not a regular University professor but teaches at IAS, said she feels her connection to her alma mater has been “refreshed in generational terms” through her freshman seminar.
“I am working on writing about education and writing about political equality, and my conversations with the students are extremely helpful for clarifying my own thinking,” she added.
Shapiro, who is now a Wilson School professor, said the program allowed him to develop a curriculum based on his particular research field.
“When you’re teaching and you’re doing your own research, you’re really focused on issues that you are very interested in at the moment,” Shapiro said. “When I was president, I had to deal with a lot of issues that came up that I didn’t originate.”
As University president, Shapiro taught several freshman seminars. He is currently teaching FRS 163: Science, Technology and Public Policy for the first time.
Likewise, Eisgruber said he finds it somewhat refreshing to pursue a subject with his students that is largely unrelated to his administrative job but focused on his research work. In past years, he catered his seminar toward public policy and higher education, which was directly related to his work as Provost. But this year, his course explores an entirely different subject matter that is “the core of his scholarly expertise.”
Whether the administrators are experienced academics or new to the classroom like Burstein, all said they found the program to be a worthwhile endeavor.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to engage with Princeton students,” Eisgruber said. “It’s one of the highlights of my week.”
According to Deputy Dean of the College Clayton Marsh ’85, it is not unusual for former or current administrators to teach University classes since many of them have a background in academia; however, the extra workload required of these professors is often extremely demanding on top of their other administrative commitments.
Despite the added workload, each year a substantial number of University administrators volunteer to participate in the program. Twelve out of 53 professors currently teaching freshman seminars hold or have held administrative positions at the University, including six academic program directors such as department chairs, Marsh said. In the fall term of 2011, eight of 36 freshman seminar professors were current or former members of the administration.