While University President Shirley Tilghman plans to step down from her post in Nassau Hall this June and eventually rejoin the faculty, none of her fellow top-level administrators are planning to step down from their posts alongside her, according to interviews with them this week.
In some earlier presidential transitions, the departure of the president precipitated a broader policy shift as University leaders who worked closely with the president resigned shortly thereafter. But Tilghman said in an interview last month that no one in the administration had yet come forward to her about leaving.
With the exception of Dean for Research A.J. Stewart Smith, who will change roles to become the Vice President of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory on Jan. 1, academic and administrative officers will remain in their posts, according to those who responded to interview requests. Smith’s administrative job change was announced last April and does not relate to Tilghman’s September announcement.
University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee ’69, University Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, Dean of the Graduate School William Russel, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Jay Dominick, Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin and Dean of the Wilson School Cecilia Rouse all said they had no immediate plans to resign.
Appointments to the academic administration typically require five years of service. At this point, officers can either be renewed for a longer term or choose to return to the faculty. The fact that no other administrators have opted to step down from their roles in light of the forthcoming presidential change could indicate the presidential transition will be smooth.
According to Smith, it is more common for members of the University administration — known as officers of the corporation — to spend a career in their posts than for academic officials to do so. He said academic officials come from teaching backgrounds and are often determined to return to those roles once they have served their duties. He said this creates a natural turnover every few years in academic leadership as administrators leave their posts and return to the faculty to teach or conduct research.
Durkee, who has served the administration since 1972 and under three University presidents, said it is uncommon for administrators to step down during times of change like this one.
“The normal practice is that people stay in their position and assist with the transition,” he said. “However, people choose a time to step down that is best for them.”
The trend of top-level administrators leaving during the first years of a new presidency trace back to President Robert Goheen ’40, who retired in 1972. Though there was a strong retention rate between the presidencies of Goheen and William Bowen GS ’58, the same was not true of the transition between Bowen and Harold Shapiro GS ’64. In 1988, the first year of Shapiro’s installment as president, three administrators left, including then-provost Neil Rudenstine ’56, who would become president of Harvard three years later in 1991.
Shapiro said in an interview that there was some turnover in the transition from his administration to Tilghman’s and that he expected there to be some turnover between Tilghman’s administration and her successor’s as well. He emphasized, however, that administrators could leave whenever they saw fit.
“These jobs are too good for people to say this is an opportunity to leave. They can always leave if they want. They don’t have to wait for the president to leave,” he said.
The reasons for leaving during a presidential transition are twofold: It may be the most convenient timing in the natural turnover of the administration, or the incoming president may wish to hire new people or to make administrative changes.
As the search for Tilghman’s successor continues, it remains unclear who the next president will be, nevermind his or her intentions and feelings about the current composition of University leadership.
Tilghman said she wished for overlap between her administration and her successor’s but that it would ultimately remain up to the next president.
"It would be wonderful if we had a very smooth transition,” she said. “But at some point, the new president will have to judge for herself or himself what the team would look like for the next decade or so. It would be wonderful if we could have overlap, and there are certainly many individuals in the administration who fully intend to do that.”
Dobkin, for instance, said he is very happy at the University and does not plan on leaving until his retirement. Eisgruber, who has served as provost for eight years, also said he does not plan on leaving the University. Eisgruber has been speculated as a frontrunner within the University community to replace Tilghman.
Smith said this presidential transition comes at a crucial time for the University, as American higher education will face a number of challenges in the years to come. Universities in Asian countries are improving their quality of teaching and research. Additionally, top-tier schools — including Princeton — have been publishing course content for global audiences on platforms like Coursera, edX, Education 2 Go and Open Yale. These open curriculums raise questions about what higher education will mean decades from now, he said.
Tilghman said that every presidential transition is different. When she was installed in 2001, for instance, she said she experienced a steep learning curve, though she said shadowing Shapiro for upward of 18 hours a day in his final months made the transition easier. But for others, it may be different.
“[The transition] will depend on who it is; it will depend on the chemistry, and it will depend on how experienced the individual is,” Tilghman said. “I will leave it up to the new person to make that decision.”
Dean of the College Valerie Smith, Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Carolyn Ainslie, Vice President for Development Elizabeth Boluch Wood, Vice President for Facilities Michael McKay, Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye and president of Princeton University Investment Company Andrew Golden did not respond to requests for comment.
Executive Vice President Mark Burstein, who was one of two finalists for a position at Dickinson College, declined to comment on whether he would leave. General Counsel Peter McDonough and Vice President for Human Resources Lianne Sullivan-Crowley deferred comment to Durkee.
News Editor Teddy Schleifer contributed reporting.