With a looming Supreme Court decision that experts predict will strike down affirmative action, University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 maintained that the University will find ways to achieve a diverse campus in an annual address to alumni delivered during Reunions.
The majority of President Eisgruber’s address was focused on familiar themes of campus expansion, the benefits campus expansion will have on serving underrepresented communities, and the effects of technology on society. In his tenth year in office, most of Eisgruber’s sentiments were familiar from past public statements, with no major surprises in the hour-long event.
On the pending Supreme Court decision, Eisgruber said, “We have our eye on it. What I will say right now, is we believe in the essential character of diversity to our mission.” “We will continue to push within the limits of the law to sustain that diversity and its benefits,” he continued. As in the past, Eisgruber did not detail any specific University strategies to maintain racial diversity in the face of affirmative action being struck down.
Eisgruber moved to discussion of construction and campus expansion, which dominated much of his address. He noted that after the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been “a lot more community and less distancing, but also more fences,” notably with the construction of Yeh College and New College West.
Yet Eisgruber also highlighted that it was one of his priorities to expand the student body, and construction has allowed the University to add about 500 students to incoming classes. The two new colleges, he said, have “enabled us to say yes to more of the extraordinary applicants that we get to this university,” Eisgruber explained. He continued by repeating an anecdote he often cites — that there are about 18,000 applicants every year who are qualified enough to be taken “off the bench and subbed in for somebody who was accepted.”
Yeh and New College West also take a distinct architectural approach to collegiate architecture as opposed to the gothic buildings on campus. Eisgruber noted that the open, transparent, windowed portions on the bottom levels of the buildings are intended to combat “epidemics of loneliness in this country.”
“We want transparency where students want to find community, they can see things that are happening and they are flocking to these spaces,” he said.
This was the first time he explicitly connected the modernist architecture of new campus buildings, which has been controversial on campus, to mental health. Eisgruber has in the past connected excessive alcohol consumption and social media use to student mental health, while comparatively minimizing the effect of academic pressure. Later in the presentation, he presented two stock images of teenagers distracted by technological devices as illustrations of the effect of technology on society and campus communities.
Campus expansion connects to the ability to serve more students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Eisgruber spent a portion of the address touting the recent increase in financial aid. For the 2023–24 academic year, financial aid will cover all expenses for students coming from families earning up to $100,000. He cited making the University “accessible and affordable to students from all backgrounds” as a major priority.
During the address, he displayed a chart of the percentage of the student body that receives Pell Grants, which provide grants to low-income students. Eisgruber emphasized that 40 percent of the American income distribution would be eligible for the grants. 20.1 percent of the class of 2026 is made up of Pell Grant recipients, according to the data displayed during the address.
“All of the social science data says that if you get a student from a low income background or a lower middle income background, and you get them on a campus like this one, the effects of the kind of aspirations that are in the environment, and the support that a place like this one provides, that’s a rocket booster for those students,” he continued.
Eisgruber also emphasized a University wide effort to recruit from varied backgrounds. He noted that 17 percent of students on campus are the first in their family to go to college. He also highlighted Princeton’s transfer program, which he said is focused on military veterans and community college transfers.
He shared the story of Shaun Cason ’23, a senior in the History department who is a military veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and recipient of the Sachs Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at Worcester College at the University of Oxford.
Eisgruber moved on to graduate students, and the benefits that campus expansion may have for them. Eisgruber described how the University is looking to build housing that can accommodate the needs of a range of different kinds of students, including graduate students. He noted that as of next spring, the University will be able to meet 100 percent of the demand for graduate housing. Housing has been a key factor in a graduate student unionization effort that gained momentum this spring, though steps have not been taken to trigger an election.
Eisgruber commented that other construction projects on campus are meant to meet the increased need for services and resources to accommodate a growing student body. McCosh Health Center, which Eisgruber described as “one of our most jammed and congested buildings right now,” will be replaced by the new University Health Services (UHS) building. Dillon Gym will also be expanded to provide new recreational opportunities for students.
“We know that our students, our faculty, our staff, have to be supported in their well-being both in terms of mental and physical health, in order for them to thrive and achieve all that they seek to achieve on this campus,” he said.
Eisgruber also said that a mission of increased construction is to “educate for citizenship amidst technological change.” He described getting lost in thought as a growing challenge due to technological distractions, echoing concerns he laid out in his State of the University letter from January.
As a concrete mission to promote reflection, Eisgruber highlighted a desire to “emphasize the human” through the construction of the new Princeton University Art Museum, as well as programs like the Center for Digital Humanities, making a connection to the risks of an increasing digital footprint.
“More generally, I’m going to challenge our faculty and our staff to think about how it is that we can achieve as a society and on our campus those benefits of getting lost in thought and reflection,” he said.
The annual address to alumni, “A Conversation with President Eisgruber,” was held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 27 in Richardson Auditorium.
Isabel Yip is a head news editor for the ‘Prince.’
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