National Politics Inspired a Year of Protests
By Anne Levin and Donald Gilpin
Much of the news in Princeton in 2017 arose in response to actions and initiatives emanating from Washington. It was a year full of political activity, with rallies and demonstrations taking place in Princeton almost weekly.
Immediately following the inauguration of President Donald Trump on January 20, a number of Princeton residents, including at least three Council members, joined more than 6,000 marching in Trenton for women’s rights, civil rights, and other issues. Many in Princeton also expressed concern for arts and education, with cuts threatened for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.
Trump’s executive order in his first week in office attempting to close U.S. borders to immigrants and others from seven majority Muslim countries and to refugees from throughout the world drew a strong, immediate response from the Princeton community.
“Recent executive actions on immigration issues are cruel, counterproductive, and contrary to the values we hold dear in Princeton,” Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and Princeton Council wrote in a statement. Describing “the overwhelming outpouring of compassion from our fellow Princeton residents,” the statement continued, “we are a welcoming community that recognizes and celebrates the diversity that makes our town such a special place.”
Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) Director Robbert Dijkgraaf also issued statements expressing their concern regarding the federal executive order. Princeton University has always “depended on America’s ability to attract and engage with talented people from around the world,” Eisgruber said. “Princeton today benefits tremendously from the presence of extraordinary individuals of diverse nationalities and faiths, and we will support them vigorously.”
Dijkgraaf similarly affirmed IAS’s values and commitment to uphold those values in support of its scholars. “From our founding the Institute has welcomed academics from around the world, irrespective of race, gender, and creed, with the simple requirement that they be dedicated to advancing scholarship,” he said. “Bringing leading scholars from all the world’s countries and regions and supporting their unfettered academic research, wherever it may take them, are among our core values. This was true in the 1930s when faculty like Einstein, Weyl, and von Neumann came from Europe to the Institute, and it is true today as we welcome faculty and members from more than 30 countries.”
Princeton Human Services and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) quickly moved into high gear, supporting community members. “In light of recent executive orders, LALDEF is working diligently with community partners to ensure that our clients have access to all of the services that they need,” said LALDEF Executive Director Adriana Abizadeh.
The Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) also took up the charge, co-sponsoring a rally on the steps of Trenton City Hall in early February ”Against the Muslim Ban and Bigotry.” And Princeton University ratcheted up its resistance, with Eisgruber joining 47 other American college and university presidents in a letter to Trump urging him to rectify or rescind his executive order, and followed up with an amicus brief on February 13 against the immigration order.
A coalition of University student groups, led by Princeton Citizen Scientists and Princeton Advocates for Justice, made sure their voices were heard, staging a series of teach-ins, workshops, and panel discussions exploring issues of human rights, the environment, international peace, and security. Their “Day of Action” on March 6 was supported by more than 1,000 members of the University community, including more than 100 faculty members.
On April 22, Earth Day, thousands of local residents, in solidarity with the March for Science taking place in Washington D.C., gathered in Hinds Plaza and marched to the Princeton Battle Monument, with a focus on supporting climate science and science education.
In August violence in Charlottesville brought a crowd of about 250 to Palmer Square for an anti-hate rally in support of the victims and to stand up against white supremacy, domestic terrorists, and hate groups in our country.
Two additional initiatives from the White House created consternation and fear in the Princeton community in the late summer and fall. The CFPA and its executive director, the Rev. Bob Moore, reacted forcefully and directly to Trump’s threats against North Korea, issuing statements and staging a number of rallies throughout the fall for “diplomacy, not war.”
Condemning Trump’s threats to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against North Korea, Moore said “such reckless and bellicose threats make a horrifying situation far worse, and greatly increase the risk that the U.S. will slide into another war, possibly nuclear.”
In early September the immigration controversy was ratcheted up further by the Trump administration’s announcement that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that shields undocumented young immigrants from deportation would be ending by March 2018.
Again the community, local institutions, groups, and individuals rose in opposition and in support of immigrant groups, in this case the DREAMers, with Eisgruber sending letters to congressional leaders urging them to pass legislation to provide protection for DACA participants.
“Ending DACA is a cruel decision that will tear apart families, undermine our economy, and betray our values,” said Lempert.
The pace of political activity in Princeton did not abate as the year drew
towards its close. A multifaith gathering and conference on “The Challenges of Peace in the Trump Era,” sponsored by the CFPA and 40 other area religious and civic groups, drew about 400 to the Princeton University Chapel and Nassau Presbyterian Church in early November; a crowd of about 200 gathered in Hinds Plaza in late November to support DACA and to urge Congress to pass the DREAM act; and the voices of Princeton’s concerned individuals and organizations continued to be heard through the following month.
Westminster Choir College
The saga of this renowned music school continues. Rider University, with which Westminster merged 25 years ago, has yet to reveal the identity of the organization with which it is negotiating to sell the school. According to members of the college community, the buyer is a for-profit company that operates K-12 schools in Asia that Rider identifies as “an international partner.”
It was early last year that the Lawrenceville-based Rider announced its intention to sell the Westminster campus on Walnut Avenue, in an effort to bolster what University President Gregory Dell’Omo said was a looming deficit of between $10-$14 million. The first plan was to relocate Westminster to the Lawrenceville campus.
The news sent the Westminster and Rider community of students, faculty, alumni, and parents into action. The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton was formed.
Rider and Westminster, they contended, were two different animals, and merging the campuses was not a good idea. Westminster has been located in Princeton since 1932. By the end of February, that plan was no longer on the table.
At the end of March, Dell’Omo said Rider wanted to keep Westminster in Princeton, and was looking for a buyer that would either maintain the choir college (and the affiliated Westminster Conservatory of Music) at the Princeton site, or move it to a new location. That second option was not favored by the Coalition. At the end of April, the Rider faculty’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) voted no confidence in Dell’Omo.
Meanwhile, Princeton Regional Schools expressed an interest in acquiring the Westminster property. But the school district withdrew consideration of a proposal soon after. By July, the district was back in the game, making an offer for the property. But the offer was not accepted.
Dell’Omo and members of Rider’s board of trustees met with students, teachers, faculty, and parents during the year, trying to quell the concerns voiced at protests, a teach-in, and other gatherings. Former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean appeared at a press conference to express his opposition to the sale. The Coalition hired lawyer Bruce Afran, who filed a suit in federal court saying Rider had no legal right to sell the campus, and that claims of a huge deficit were false.
The “international partner” was announced in August. Three months later, faculty received layoff notices, which Dell’Omo said were just part of the process of transferring to a new owner. But the AAUP chapter, complaining that faculty had been left out of the process from the beginning, filed a grievance. Early this month, Dell’Omo sent a letter to Westminster faculty, staff, and students, saying negotiations were “making good progress.”
With the effects of climate change dramatically apparent across the globe, Princeton made significant progress in its efforts towards sustainability, preservation, and the development of a climate action plan.
In September Sustainable Princeton, a nonprofit environmental organization, announced its $100,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop a Climate Action Plan (CAP), partnering with the town to develop specific strategies, actions, and goals to lower the town’s greenhouse gas emissions and prepare its infrastructure to withstand the increasing impacts of climate change.
The CAP will have immediate practical implications for a number of key issues in town, including the Bike Master Plan, proposed solutions to downtown parking and circulation, the anticipated construction of more affordable housing, and the school district’s planned expansion referendum.
Princeton has been certified at the silver level by Sustainable Jersey, and in September Littlebrook Elementary School, Johnson Park Elementary School, and John Witherspoon Middle School earned bronze level certification as Sustainable Schools. “We expect the other public schools will get that certification soon, too,” said Christine Symington, Sustainable Princeton’s program director.
In another breakthrough, “the most significant milestone in our efforts to put pedestrians and cyclists in Princeton on the same footing as motorists,” according councilman and Planning Board member Tim Quinn, the Planning Board voted last month to adopt Princeton’s first official Bike Mobility Plan. “After many decades of patient pushing, and two long years of intensive civic engagement, history was made,” the Princeton Bicycle Advisory Committee announced.
Friends of Herrontown Woods (FOHW) celebrated their own success in August, culminating years of controversy, when Mercer County agreed to transfer ownership of the 142-acre Herrontown Woods Arboretum to the town of Princeton, opening the door for the FOHW to bid to take on restoration of the historic Veblen House, formerly owned by the renowned mathematician Oscar Veblen and his wife Elizabeth.
Mayor Liz Lempert described FOHW as “one of Princeton’s great volunteer groups,” and FOHW President Steve Hiltner said that his group is “thrilled that we will now be allowed to take the next step, and begin realizing the Veblens’ vision for the buildings.”
Among the challenges on the environmental front, invasive species pose perhaps the most visible threat. The emerald ash borer, first sighted in Princeton in 2015 and expected to kill all of Princeton’s approximately 2,000 ash trees if untreated, this year reached “a critical juncture in the infestation cycle,” said Princeton Shade Tree Commission (STC) Chair Sharon Ainsworth.
Town arborist Lorraine Konopka, in league with the STC, has been working to assess the town’s ash trees and take action to treat or remove as necessary. “Make a game plan,” Konopka advised local residents. “You need to figure out your five-year plan. Ascertain what trees to remove and what trees to treat.”
David Cohen and Leticia Fraga, both Democrats, ran unopposed in the November election and will be starting three-year terms on the Princeton Council next month, taking over from Bernie Miller and Jo Butler, who announced earlier in the year that they would be stepping down.
Beth Behrend, Jess Deutsch, and Michele Tuck-Ponder prevailed in a hotly-contested race for three-year terms on the Princeton Board of Education, as Jenny Ludmer, Julie Ramirez, and James Fields fell short in their bids.
Princeton voters overwhelmingly supported Democrat Phil Murphy in his successful race for New Jersey governor over Republican Kim Guadagno. But in the 16th legislative district incumbent Republican Christopher “Kip” Bateman retained his State Senate seat against Laurie Poppe, despite Princeton’s support for the Democratic challenger.
Democratic incumbent Andrew Zwicker successfully defended his State Assembly seat, and Democrat Roy Freiman won the second Assembly position, defeating Republicans Donna Simon and Mark Calguire.
Princeton Public Schools
Princeton Public Schools, once again recognized by Niche, a national school-ranking website, as the No. 1 public school district in New Jersey, faced an array of challenges in 2017, combating stress, overcrowding, racism, and budget tightening. Dominating the news for the first half of the year,
however, was the PPS clash with Princeton Charter School (PCS), which applied a year ago to expand and institute an admissions lottery.
PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane and the Board of Education (BOE) formally opposed the PCS application, claiming that the proposed PCS expansion would entail a loss of $1.2 million in tuition payments and subsequent cutbacks of personnel and programs.
Acting State Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington approved the PCS proposal on February 28, and in June denied a subsequent Princeton BOE request to stay her decision. PCS proceeded with its weighted admissions lottery, which it claimed to be a “resounding success” in helping to increase diversity and access for disadvantaged students.
Looking forward to working with PCS in the future, Cochrane and PPS are still looking for changes at the state level. “The funding formula for charter schools doesn’t make sense for this community and it doesn’t make sense for the state,” Cochrane said. “Some changes need to be made.”
Meanwhile Cochrane emphasized the district’s continued emphasis on its five strategic plan goals: wellness and balance, every child known, closing the achievement gap, innovation in teaching and learning, and communication.”
With Princeton High School 200 students over capacity, John Witherspoon Middle School 100 over capacity, the elementary schools full, and further growth predicted, a facilities referendum vote is anticipated in the coming year, probably in September.
Proposed expansion could include a three-story addition at PHS, a new community school for fifth and sixth grades at the Valley Road site currently occupied by administration and transportation, upgrades at all six schools, a new space for administration and transportation, space for a preschool center, and possibly plans for a future elementary school.
Causing particular concern were the results of a PHS student survey conducted last fall by Stanford University researchers, which concluded that PHS students are experiencing high levels of stress, low levels of joyful engagement with learning, and serious sleep deprivation.
As the district continues its ongoing analysis of the survey results, Cochrane envisions a reshaping of student experiences and a redefining of success in the schools. Parents, students, teachers, and the broader community will need to work together “to build a culture where students can have space to breathe, to try new things, to fail, to succeed, and to have a definition of success that revolves around joy and purpose.”
He added, “the goal we all share is to increase wellness while deepening learning.”
In June the BOE and the teachers’ union agreed to an early, amicable extension of teachers’ contracts through 2020, marking “a real game changer,” according to Board President Patrick Sullivan, in the relationship between the board and teachers that has in the past seen significant conflict over contract negotiations.
Littlebrook Elementary School (LB) gained a new principal over the summer, as Annie Kosek moved to central administration to become assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and Luis Ramirez took the helm at LB.
Princeton University News
The 145,000-square-foot Lewis Center for the Arts at Alexander Street and University Place opened on schedule, in time for classes this past fall. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the $300-million-plus project greatly expands teaching, rehearsal, and performance space for dance, theater, and music in three state-of-the-art buildings. The idea is to make the arts an integral part of the curriculum.
The University this year released a framework for expansion over the next decade, “in the context of potential needs and developments over the next 30 years,” according to officials.
Among the proposed plans are a new residential college, new engineering and environmental studies facilities, and a new athletics hub. A new campus on land in West Windsor, south of Lake Carnegie, would have athletic fields, administrative and academic buildings, housing for up to 500 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, retail space, and a transit hub.
Walkways and bike paths are part of the plan, which also includes a pedestrian bridge over the lake and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The bridge would be part of bicycle and sidewalk networks in Princeton, West Windsor, and Plainsboro. The University wants to have space and facilities to accommodate 500 more undergraduates. The plan does not indicate when, or even if the University will go through with the projects, and a capital plan to determine how much money can be raised is under development.
The Princeton & Slavery Project was an ambitious effort to explore Princeton University’s past ties to slavery — and there were many. Led by history professor Martha Sandweiss, the research resulted in a two-day public symposium November 18 and 19, with Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison as keynote speaker; presentations at Princeton Public Library; plays at McCarter Theatre; a large-scale outdoor installation by artist Titus Kaphar; and a comprehensive website that includes articles, videos, interactive maps and graphs, and primary source documents.
The saga of fourth-year graduate student Xiyue Wang, detained in Iran since the summer of 2016, continues. Wang, who is a U.S. citizen, was accused of spying and illicitly scanning digital documents while doing research for his doctoral dissertation. Last February, Wang was charged with two counts of espionage. In April, he was convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. His appeal of his sentence is scheduled to be heard this summer.
Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, has pleaded with President Trump to open a dialogue with the country’s leaders to gain Wang’s release. The couple have a 4-year-old son. Wang’s health has declined and he has attempted suicide, according to his wife. According to the University’s website, the school has been working on a daily basis to secure Wang’s release, and has retained counsel for him in Iran.
It wasn’t so long ago that Princeton could have been considered a diner’s wasteland. But the town is now exploding with eateries of so many styles and ethnicities, it can be difficult to keep up.
First, the sad news: Main Street Bistro, a Princeton Shopping Center fixture for more than three decades, closed its doors. Fenwick Hospitality Group, which bought the restaurant in 2016, shut it down in late August.
But Fenwick head Jim Nawn, who also owns Agricola and the Dinky Bar & Kitchen, had plenty to focus on this year. The liquor license from Main Street was transferred to Two Sevens, the company’s newest eatery, which opened December 20. Located next to the AvalonBay complex, the restaurant serves food from Central and South America. Fenwick also opened Cargot Brasserie, an upscale French restaurant, in one of the former Dinky rail stations.
Other closings this year included Massimo’s on Nassau Street, and Taco Truck in Princeton Shopping Center. Additional new eateries are Local Greek, at the former site of Cafe 44 on Leigh Avenue; and Marhaba, specializing in Egyptian cuisine, at the former location of Cheeburger Cheeburger at 182 Nassau Street. Chopt, the salad chain, opened at Princeton Shopping Center, and Surf Taco is projected to open at the complex soon.
Retirements and resignations meant a changing of the guard at some local organizations. For others, 2017 marked the end of an era.
Robert K. Durkee, Princeton University’s vice president for public affairs since 1978, stepped down from that role while retaining the title of vice president and secretary that he has held since 2004. As of February 1, the new vice president for public affairs will be Brent Colburn, a former senior communications and public affairs official at several cabinet-level federal agencies. Most recently, Colburn was the vice president for communications at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization.
Timothy J. Shields resigned as managing director of McCarter Theatre Center to take a job at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego; the search for his replacement is ongoing. At Trenton’s Passage Theatre Company, longtime artistic director June Ballinger stepped down to become artistic advisor; C. Ryanne Domingues is the new artistic director.
Princeton experienced a major loss when the American Boychoir School announced it was closing in August. Precarious finances, decreased attendance, and the leftover effects of a 2002 sexual abuse scandal contributed to the decision to close the 80-year-old institution. The Boychoir was famed for its concerts around the globe, often with major orchestras.
The school had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2015 and managed to stay afloat through donations and a move to smaller quarters at Rambling Pines Day Camp in Hopewell. But the financial demands were too much. At the time of its closing, some alumni said they hoped the Boychoir might be brought back to life.
Several former and current educators were among Princeton’s losses during the past year. Princeton University announced the deaths of professors Uwe Reinhardt, an economist and health care expert; Edward Taylor, inventor of the anti-cancer drug Alimta; Donald McClure, a specialist in electronic spectroscopy; Robert Jahn, pioneer of deep space propulsion and mind-machine interactions; George Luchak, whose work helped astronauts land on the moon; Kurt Mislow, a stereochemistry pioneer; and Slobodan (Danny) Curcic, a global authority on Byzantine art and architecture. Institute of Advanced Study mathematician Vladimir Voevodsky and mathematician Leonard Baum were also among those who passed away.
Lawrence J. Ivan, a beloved Princeton public school educator and coach who died December 2, was familiar to anyone who swam at the Princeton Community Pool, which he ran for five decades. Westminster Choir College voice professor Lindsey Christiansen, architect Michael Mostoller, violinist Joseph Kovacs, and inventor Adel Ahmed were additional losses, as were Carolyn Quay Wilson, founder of the Princeton Senior Resource Center’s Evergreen Forum; Aline Lenaz, who ran the Cloak & Dagger Bookshop; Jeremiah K. Reilly, who owned Halo Pub and Halo Fete; and Stephen Alan Decter, former West Windsor Township mayor and planning board member.