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Capital campaign's success merits more attention to human interests

This summer, the University concluded the most successful capital campaign in its history. It raised more than $1 billion in less than five years, far exceeding its initial expectation of $750 million. The campaign helped bring Princeton's endowment to more than $7 billion, giving it the highest endowment per student in the world. While such an effort is impressive, it has also been one-sided, focusing primarily on the physical and intellectual endowment of the University and less on the human capital of its employees, students and surrounding communities.

It is relatively easy to see the effects of the capital campaign on the campus' physical endowment. A significant part of the campaign has helped to fund the construction or maintenance of buildings such as the Frist Campus Center, the football and lacrosse stadiums and dormitories such as Scully Hall. It has also been used to fund the renovation of buildings such as the University Chapel, Cleveland Tower and Blair Hall.


The capital campaign also has been effective in bolstering the intellectual endowment of the University. It has led to the creation of new interdisciplinary initiatives in genomics and finance, as well as the construction of new buildings such as the Wallace Social Sciences Building.

While the campaign has far exceeded expectations in improving the physical and intellectual capital of the University, its record has been less than stellar when it comes to issues of human capital. Granted, Princeton did manage to raise $170 million for undergraduate and graduate student fellowships. This, in turn, enabled the University to liberalize its financial aid policies, relieving the economic burden on middle-income families.

There are several other dimensions of human capital, however, that have remained woefully unaffected by the recent fund-raising campaign. For one, Princeton ranks as one of the few Ivy League institutions that do not offer basic dental and visual benefits to its employees, whether they be administrators, highly ranked faculty or support staff. It is ironic to note that the University, with one of the highest capital endowments in the country, also fails to provide several important employee benefits.

Another example of Princeton's lack of concern for human capital involves the almost inhumane treatment of graduate students who are considered "post-enrolled." In its concern to be the university with one of the shortest "time-to-degree" numbers, Princeton usually drops the enrollment status of graduate students beyond their fourth or fifth year of study. This drop in status happens even to those who manage to get funding from the outside.

Thus, under "post-enrollment," students are no longer eligible for University housing and have to purchase their own way into the student health plan. And since they can no longer defer their student loans, many students enter the private workplace without finishing their degrees.

One final area in which the University has neglected the development of human capital has been in its relationship to the surrounding community. Of course, organizations like the Student Volunteer Council and Community House do valuable service work in schools and community-based organizations in Trenton.


However, given its largesse and its potential to raise even more capital, Princeton can take even more ambitious steps such as funding after-school programs and activities for teenagers in troubled neighborhoods. This would make Princeton a more responsible community actor, and would broaden the meaning of the University's mission of being "in the nation's service."

There are many other facets of human capital to which Princeton must start paying attention. Indeed, what Princeton needs is a "Human Capital Campaign" that addresses many of the needs ignored by its traditional capital fund raisers. Mounting an ambitious human capital campaign will be a challenge. But, given the nation's economic prosperity and given the University's impressive track record of raising funds, this will be yet another challenge that Princeton can easily overcome. S. Karthick Ramakrishnan is a politics and Office of Population Research graduate student from Holden, Mass. He can be reached at

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