Search committee hears student concerns at focus groups
The presidential search committee solicited feedback from students in eight focus groups over the past two evenings, in hopes of getting direct feedback on what the student body wants from their new University president.
About 10 to 20 students were assigned to each of the eight time slots. Upon arriving in Prospect House, students were broken up into smaller groups and paired up with various members of the search committee. These smaller groups then discussed the various qualities desired in the future president for about 45 minutes.
In one focus group, according to students in attendance, students discussed and debated the future president’s awareness of local and global issues, whether the candidate came from an academic background or the private sector, and their ties to the University. In another, students discussed whether the next president should emphasize pre-professional fields and courses or instead stick to the liberal arts culture, which Tilghman has defended. In a third session, some students touched on whether it mattered that the president was a member of a minority group.
Specific candidates were also discussed, including Wilson School professor and former dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, University Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, politics professor Robert George, English professor Jeff Nunokawa, religion professor Eric Gregory and former CIA director David Petraeus GS ’87.
Individuals named outright at these meetings are being placed on the long list of potential presidents that the search committee will cull to choose a candidate.
Many search committee members attended the forums, including Chair of the Board of Trustees Katie Hall ’80, who is also the chair of the search committee, Young Alumni Trustee Josh Grehan ’10 and student representatives Catherine Ettman ’13 and Jeff Morell ’13.
Ettman sent out an email to all undergraduate students on Nov. 7 announcing the focus groups. In the email Ettman presented the groups as a chance for students to meet with members of the search committee and express their opinions on the University’s future and which candidates would be best suited to lead the University.
“Our goal is to make sure that the undergrad voice is heard and considered in the decision about who the next president will be,” Ettman wrote.
Ettman and Morell declined to comment on the focus groups, deferring comment to Hall.
According to Hall, over 200 students initially expressed interest in participating in the focus groups after the initial email was sent, but only about 120 actually ended up signing up for slots to attend the meeting. A number of those students ultimately did not attend their scheduled focus groups.
Hall said that the focus groups are similar to the previous meetings the committee has held with various groups, including meetings held with graduate students, faculty members, department chairs and the Princeton community at large.
“We are looking to ask the same questions that we actually covered at the [Council of the Princeton University Community] meeting to make sure that we hear a variety of perspectives around campus,” Hall said.
According to Hall, the committee is not currently planning on holding any more meetings like the focus groups for students to directly interact with the committee. There will, however, still remain a chance for input into the search process through the official committee website. She said that the committee has been strongly and constantly encouraging people to submit their feedback and suggestions through this medium in order to have their voice heard.
The University reportedly attempted to shut down a second, unofficial website started by an American Studies class soliciting student feedback earlier this semester.
The official website’s homepage said Wednesday night that 214 individuals had submitted answers to the questions. Hall said that students have comprised a significant amount of those submissions.
“We are seeing good participation from both graduate students and undergraduate students [on the website],” Hall said, adding that the process has been “very interesting.”