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Eisgruber Steps Up From Provost to President

After  months of searching, Princeton University’s Board of Trustees has found a new leader to replace outgoing President Shirley M. Tilghman who retires at the end of this academic year. And he was right here in Princeton all along. 

Christopher L. Eisgruber, Princeton’s provost for the past nine years, will step up to the post as the University’s 20th president as of July 1. 

The appointment was announced Sunday, April 21, at a media conference in the Faculty Room at Nassau Hall where portraits of past University presidents and other important figures look down from the walls.

According to University spokesperson Martin A. Mbugua, the announcement was made on a Sunday because that happened to be the day when the trustees in attendance were available for the special meeting. 

By all accounts, the 51-year-old Mr. Eisgruber is a popular choice. He is credited with steering Princeton through the tough times of the recent recession and managing its endowment following the 2008 financial crisis. He played a central role in key initiatives such as a $1.88 billion fund-raising campaign, several large construction projects, and the expansion of the financial aid program. He has championed Princeton as both a “great research university and the world’s best liberal arts college.” 

A member of the Princeton undergraduate class of 1983, Mr. Eisgruber majored in physics (writing a 100-page thesis entitled, “The Global Implications of Local Violations of the Energy Conditions”) and spent two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He went on to receive a law degree from the University of Chicago. 

Originally from Corvallis, Oregon, Mr. Eisgruber was a clerk at the Supreme Court for Justice John Paul Stevens and taught at New York University Law School for 11 years before returning to Princeton to join the faculty in 2001 as a professor of public affairs and director of its program in law and public affairs. In 2004, he became Princeton’s 11th provost, the University’s second-ranking official and its chief academic and budgetary officer.

Board Chair Kathryn Hall, who headed the 17-member presidential search -committee, said that Mr. Eisgruber’s appointment was unanimous and enthusiastic. Describing him as the perfect choice, she said: “We were looking for our next president to be a person who could sustain our current success and also set a forward strategic course; to help lead Princeton through a period of what we think might be real change. And do it with innovation, creativity, and judgment. Chris has all of the qualities we were looking for: he has keen intelligence and excellent judgment; he cares passionately about teaching and research of the highest quality; he is deeply committed to principles of excellence, equity, and integrity; and he is devoted to Princeton …. He will lead Princeton with vision, imagination, courage, and conviction.”

The warm response was echoed by outgoing President Tilghman: “Chris is the leader we are going to need for the next decade or so; we couldn’t be in better hands.” Ms. Tilghman cited her colleague’s leadership during the “depths” of the country’s economic recession, which she described as “absolutely critical to the way the University successfully navigated those years.” Not only that, said Ms. Tilghman, Mr. Eisgruber worked in a transparent and inclusive manner with University staff, faculty, students, and alumni during that time.

In looking forward, Mr. Eisgruber said the University will need to consider several important issues including access to higher education and online learning. He spoke of challenges and tough questions in the years to come. 

In the short term, Mr. Eisgruber said his priorities will be to continue administrative initiatives currently in place and to begin talking to the campus and alumni community at the start of his term.

A renowned constitutional scholar, whose most recent books examined the Supreme Court appointments process and religious freedom and the constitution, Mr. Eisgruber as provost, continued to teach. Last fall, he taught a freshman seminar on the Supreme Court and constitutional democracy. He said that he expects to continue teaching as president, as his predecessor President Tilghman has done.

Mr. Eisgruber said that he was honored to lead the University that has shaped his life ever since he was a Princeton freshman 34 years ago. “I’m so honored, and so happy, by the opportunity to lead the Princeton community as it writes the next chapter in this University’s extraordinary history,” he said. He spoke of the legacy of outgoing President Shirley M. Tilghman who became the second woman to lead an Ivy League university when she rose to the Princeton presidency in 2001. She led the University for 12 years.

Mr. Eisgruber and his wife, Lori A. Martin, a partner in the New York office of the law firm WilmerHale, live in Princeton with their 14-year-old son, Danny, a freshman at Princeton High School.

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