The announcement last weekend of Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman’s impending retirement has prompted local government and University officials to express appreciation for her accomplishments during her eleven-year tenure. Ms. Tilghman will depart at the end of the academic year in June and will return, after a year off, to teach.
“President Shirley Tilghman has made many contributions to enhance student life, campus development, and the academic experience that have and will continue to elevate this great University and expand its impact on the world,” said Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore, in a statement. “On behalf of the citizens of the Borough of Princeton, I wish President Tilghman well as she returns to her role as Professor Tilghman.”
Township Mayor Chad Goerner praised the “very constructive, professional dialogue” between the Township and the University under Ms. Tilghman’s watch. “As I look back at the last several years, I see a significant amount of accomplishment, and part of that is due to the relationship we have with the University,” he said. “We negotiated the first significant voluntary contribution [the University’s payment in lieu of taxes] for Princeton Township, and I have to say that a lot of that is due to the fact that we have had that level of professionalism and dialogue” with the University.
Mr. Goerner added, “I think it’s a good thing that next year we will start with a new governing body and a new University president at the same time. Having that fresh start will be important.”
Ms. Tilghman will step down as Princeton’s nineteenth president at the close of the academic year in June. In a letter e-mailed to students, faculty, staff and alumni, she revealed her plans. There is a “natural rhythm to university presidencies,” she said in her letter, and with “major priorities accomplished or well on their way to being realized, and the [recently completed $1.88 billion Aspire fundraising] campaign successfully concluded, it is time for Princeton to turn to its 20th president to chart the path for the next decade and beyond.”
A Canadian by birth, Ms. Tilghman came to Princeton in 1986 as the Howard A. Prior Professor of the Life Sciences. She was one of five winners in 2002 of the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. The following year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Developmental Biology. In 2007, she won the Genetics Society of America Medal. She was a member of the National Research Council’s committee that set the blueprint for the U.S. effort in the Human Genome Project. She was also a founding member of the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project for the National Institutes of Health.
Ms. Tilghman’s accomplishments during her tenure as president include a large increase in the number of students on financial aid and more than double the average aid they receive; a master plan focused on architecture, landscaping and sustainability; the additions of Whitman College, Lewis Library and Sherrerd Hall; creation of the Lewis Center for the Arts and the new Princeton Neuroscience Institute; and an expanded global perspective.
The University’s Dean of the Faculty, David Dobkin, commented, “It has been a remarkable pleasure to be able to work with Shirley for the past nine years. She has been a superior president of Princeton. Though Princeton has a tradition of excellent leadership and there is every expectation that the next president will be as good, Shirley’s leadership has raised the bar for that next person.”
Town-gown relations have been tense at times during Ms. Tilghman’s presidency, particularly in relation to the voluntary tax payments and the controversial decision to move the Dinky train station 460 feet south of its current location to accommodate the University’s $300 million arts and transit neighborhood.
But Borough Councilman Roger Martindell, among those involved in those issues, said of Ms. Tilghman, “I think she’s done a wonderful job for Princeton University. There has been a significant increase during her tenure there in financial support for the municipalities, and I wish her the best of luck.”
The search committee for Ms. Tilghman’s successor will be led by Kathryn A. Hall, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees. The committee will include four members of the faculty who will be elected by the faculty, nine Board members, two undergraduates, a graduate student, and a member of the staff. Ms. Hall said she hope to be ready to bring a recommendation to the Board by next spring.