Community expresses disappointment in Tilghman, hopes for change in leadership style
Local residents expressed their overall discomfort with the University at an evening open forum hosted by the University’s presidential search committee on Monday.
Eight representatives of the 17-member committee were present at the meeting: philosophy professor Gideon Rosen GS ’92, sociology professor Miguel Centeno, engineering professor Howard Stone, trustees Laura Forese ’83 and Josh Grehan ’10, Deputy Dean of the College Clayton Marsh ’85 and student representatives Jeff Morell ’13 and Chad Maisel GS. Kathryn Hall ’80, the chair of the committee, and University vice president and secretary Bob Durkee ’69, who is staffing the committee, were also present.
Also present was soon-to-be mayor of consolidated Princeton Liz Lempert and current Princeton Borough mayor Yina Moore ’79, as well as several other elected officials.
Forese, who led the meeting, said the committee hoped to hear the community’s thoughts and concerns.
“It is not as much about answering questions as it is about getting your feedback,” Forese said. She declined to answer questions directed at the committee, saying that the process of presidential selection is confidential.
Attendees noted that the current town-gown relationship has become strained during the tenure of University president Shirley Tilghman.
There was consensus among speakers that the new president should be directly involved with the community in a way they said Tilghman has not been. Some attendees suggested the new president should come from the business world rather than from academia.
Several individuals spoke with hostility about a January 2011 Borough Council meeting. At this meeting, Tilghman asked the council to approve the University’s controversial plans to build its Arts and Transit Neighborhood, citing in part the University’s monetary contributions to the town.
Borough Councilwoman Jo Butler suggested the Board of Trustees publish a list of goals that the new president should realistically be able to accomplish in the next few years. She noted this would prevent the president’s attention from “[being] diverted, perhaps with a donation.”
Joe McGeady, a local resident and a supporter of the Occupy Princeton movement, described the current University by quoting the title of a book by Harvard professor Harry R. Lewis, “Excellence Without A Soul.”
This notion of a purportedly soulless University was recurrent during the meeting.
“There does appear to be an attitude problem [with the University],” resident Chip Crider GS ’79 said. “As time has gone on, it seems the University often does what is expedient ... There is a problem with its soul.”
Similarly, Linda Sipprelle, who is a former president of the Friends of the Davis International Center Board of Trustees — the center that supervises international students and scholars at the University — said current University officials “are a bit out of touch with community values.”
Lempert noted that, while the University is still expanding, the town has stopped growing.
“I want someone who is interested in working on this relationship in earnest, [someone] who thinks that what happens in this community is still important,” Lempert said.
Rodica Perciali, a Romanian-American, expressed concern that current Princeton students do not have contact with the town and that international students at Princeton have also lost contact with their home countries.
“There has been no civic activity in this campus in the last 10 years,” she said. “The students ... I feel that they cannot even talk to us.”
Butler noted, however, that several students volunteer in the town and helped during Hurricane Sandy as first responders.
Moore echoed Perciali’s words about students but blamed Tilghman for acting as a model to some of these attitudes.
“I think what we are seeing with regard to the civic non-activity of students is that they are modeling things they are seeing in their current president,” Moore said.
For Crider, the University should be a community role model.
“We should be able to bank on the University doing what is right for itself and for the town,” he noted.
About 25 people attended the event, which was held in Robertson Hall.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the comment that current University officials “are a bit out of touch with community values.” The speaker was Linda Sipprelle, the former president of the Friends of the Davis International Center. The 'Prince' regrets the error.