Outgoing EPA director Jackson GS ’86: a contender for U. presidency?
Lisa Jackson GS ’86, current administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will step down on Feb. 14, sparking speculation that she could replace outgoing President Shirley Tilghman at the end of this academic year.
In a December statement, Jackson said that she was leaving the EPA to spend time with family while also searching out “new challenges” and “new opportunities to make a difference.”
One source close to Jackson said that the EPA head would be looking forward to taking time off and has not yet made any decision about her future plans.
The source said that while Jackson was likely receiving a wide variety of offers for future work, it was impossible for her to consider other options while in office since her work at the EPA still demands her full attention. Only once her term ends will she begin to plan her next step, the source said.
Jackson, who received a master’s degree in chemical engineering, has had a close relationship with the University in recent years. In February 2012 she received the James Madison Medal, the University's highest honor for graduate alumni who have built distinguished careers. She gave one of the keynote addresses on Alumni Day that same month, and she spoke about women’s environmental leadership at the University’s “She Roars” conference in 2011.
Jackson has also spent much of her career in New Jersey. She served for six years as an assistant commissioner and, later, as commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and as then-New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s Chief of Staff for about two weeks in 2008. In late 2008, she was tapped by the Obama administration to become EPA administrator.
Mark Alexander, a visiting professor who has followed the presidential search closely with members of the AMS 313: The Law of Democracy class he taught last semester, knows Jackson personally and said that she would be a strong candidate for University president.
Last semester, Alexander and his class created the unofficial website princetonpresident.com, which allowed people to suggest candidates for University president and vote on the five most recommended and qualified according to criteria devised by the class. Alexander said Jackson’s name was suggested numerous times through the website, but he and the class had not seriously considered her candidacy last semester because she had not yet announced her decision to leave the EPA.
Nonetheless, Alexander said that Jackson compares “very favorably” to the top five candidates that the class ultimately put forward: former Wilson School dean Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, economics professor Harvey Rosen, English department chair William Gleason, University Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and Dean of the New York University School of Law and former Wilson School visiting professor Richard Revesz ’79.
Alexander specifically pointed to Jackson’s government service record, strong connection to the University, proven leadership experience and ability to relate with others as strengths that could make her a strong future president.
“She does have the kinds of qualities that a [University] president needs,” Alexander said.
Jackson does not, however, have a background in the humanities or social sciences, nor does she have experience in academia, both of which are traits that a non-scientific survey conducted by the ‘Prince’ last December found to be important to a majority of influential members of the University community who participated in the survey.
Meanwhile, the official search committee tasked with finding a replacement for Tilghman has refrained from commenting about the search process, the qualities they are seeking in candidates and the individuals under consideration.
University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee ’69, who is staffing the search committee, declined to comment on Jackson’s possible candidacy and said the committee would not be making any more statements regarding the search until the announcement of the new president.
All 17 members of the presidential search committee — nine Board of Trustee members, four faculty members, two undergraduate students, one graduate student and one staff member — either declined to comment or did not reply to requests for comment regarding the committee's progress towards eventually selecting a candidate.
The search committee is expected to make a recommendation to the University Board of Trustees in late March or early April.